By Mike Williscraft
After nearly five hours of drama, a protest, finger pointing, accusations, riled taxpayers and a thorough timeline overview for West Lincoln’s MURS project, attendees at Tuesday night’s Public Works/Recreation/Arena Committee called it a night.
The meeting was not done yet, since the Multi-Use Recreational Site portion of the meeting had been moved up in the agenda for the 40 or so hearty souls who outlasted a 2.5 hour Finance Committee meeting to get to the heart of why well over 100 initially attended town hall.
The meeting was anticipated for several reasons, not the least of which Coun. Dave Bylsma was directed to bring up a series of questions this night after he introduced them at the Jan. 23 council meeting.
As well, resident Paul Wiebe had initiated a regular protest in the parking lot at town hall over the proposed project which was approved by council in October 2016 for a $23.6 million spend.
The evening got off to a backwards start with some members of the public being permitted to make comments on the MURS as part of the Finance Committee meeting which was held before the Planning meeting.
It was not until about three hours later in the Planning meeting, after a thorough and well-laid-out timeline for the project was outlined by CAO Chris Carter that the public was given an opportunity to speak again after an at-times raucous discussion.
Many taxpayers on hand had questions about the process, confusion about costs and included features was repeatedly mentioned and the underlying issue all noted was their belief that they do not believe the municipality can afford a recreation facility with a $23.6 million price tag.
In the end, there was an offer from resident Bob Hignett to foot the bill if council would agree to put the question of the current proposal to the public in a plebiscite.
“I’ll pay for the referendum, but you have to ask, ‘Do you want it, yes or no?,” Hignett told the committee.
One resident suggested, using numbers brought up during a overview, that the $10 million from development charges projected for supporting the project, along with “some of the wind farm money” be used and the original $14 million option be built with zero impact on the tax levy.
The detail in Carter’s presentation provided answers to a great many of the technical questions regarding the project and how details were arrived at.
Mayor Doug Joyner focused his sights on Coun. Bylsma as the source for the misinformation which has been discussed in the community.
Saying “bold face lies” had been told, he requested, “I would like you to apologize to all of council.”
This request drew an extended roar from the large gallery complete with shouts requesting resignations.
Planning Chair, Coun. Jason Trombetta did a solid job to maintain some decorum with support from Coun, Joann Chechalk.
“We need to get above this,” Chechalk said, noting there should be no need for anyone to apologize for asking questions.
“Let’s not pick on each other. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Coun. Terry Bell had concerns over a comment Bylsma made in January regarding advisory committee meetings having a quorum of council.
He asked staff to confirm there was no quorum after Chechalk refused to answer his initial question. The committee was told that, “according to the board members that were in attendance there was not a quorum. Other members of (council) were there though, but it’s not a quorum.”
This was an issue for Bylsma because he said in January he had not seen any minutes from any advisory committee meeting that would show how several features were added to the design/build specs for the project which were not part of the Plan B outline which was approved by council in October 2016.
“They’re here now, on this agenda. They would not be here if I didn’t ask about them: seven sets of meeting minutes,” noted Bylsma as the minutes spanning June-November 2016 were elsewhere in the Planning agenda to be received.
“I’ve not done anything wrong. When the mayor calls (me) out, I feel they (council) is attacking not only me but the people who elected me. I represent a group of people who raise legitimate concerns that come to my inbox and not only represent a majority in my ward but it has a lot of traction from all wards. I don’t answer to the other members of council. I answer to my constituents.”
The committee did pass – in a recorded vote with Bylsma as the only dissenter – to reconfirm its direction to proceed with the current RFP process in place for the MURS.
A movement started by a single protester, Paul Wiebe, foreground left, about two weeks ago, motivated about 35 to turning out Tuesday night for a protest at town hall against the spending of $23.6 million on a rec facility. Williscraft – Photo