City of Iqaluit sells aquatic centre plan at Sept. 20 meeting
Ratepayers decide Oct. 15 if the city may borrow up to $40 million
Concerns about next month’s aquatic centre referendum were on the minds of about 25 Iqaluit residents who showed up to a Sept.20 meeting at the Arctic Winter Games arena called by the City of Iqaluit.
Nearly all of them were property owners in the city who want to know if they — and the municipal government — can afford to build a new aquatic centre.
On Oct. 15 Iqaluit ratepayers will vote yes or no to approve the borrowing of up to $40 million to pay for construction of a new aquatic centre in the vacant lot behind city hall.
“The key word is ‘up to’ [40 million],” said John Hussey, Iqaluit’s chief administrative officer, at the Sept. 20 meeting.
The city has already accumulated a cash reserve of about $4 million dollars to help pay for the centre, he said.
The cost of renting the aging Astro Hill pool, which holds 35 swimmers at a time, now costs the city $250,000 a year.
Its lease is set to expire March 2013.
“That $250,000 will be a mortgage payment to the new pool,” Hussey said.
The city has proposed two tax scenarios to cover the money that it wants to borrow:
• The first sees property taxes increase by 1.14 per cent for the next seven years to cover one-third of the cost if the territorial and federal governments agree to cover the other two-thirds. This is the best-case scenario for the tax increase, Hussey said.
• The second sees property taxes increase by 3.88 per cent for four years, and then by 1.70 per cent for two years, and by 0.09 per cent by year seven. In this case, the city will cover the entire cost.
If people vote in favour of the aquatic centre, and if the territorial and federal don’t put in any money, “it doesn’t mean that $40 million will be put on the shoulders of homeowners,” Hussey assured those at the meeting.
That’s because commercial property owners will also pay their share.
However, ratepayers probably won’t know how much money, if any, governments will put into the project before the referendum, he said.
Unpaid municipal taxes now total between $1.4 million and $1.6 million, Hussey said.
In the Oct. 15 referendum, property owners who pay taxes will be allowed one vote per property. There are 1,151 ratepayers in Iqaluit, but some of them own more than one property.
Nunavut needs such a centre to help promote healthy living, the city’s recreation director, Amy Elgersma said at the meeting, adding that “Nunavut has the highest level of inactivity in the country.”
“We have to look at the bigger picture and make this city a better place,” Coun. Romeyn Stevenson said in response to a question about why the pool has to be the “Cadillac” version.
The pool would by 25 metres long with six lanes. The centre will also include a leisure pool, a water slide, a party and training room, whirlpool, sauna, fitness centre, elders’ area, retail space and a food and beverage kiosk.
Stevenson said Iqaluit is growing so much that future infrastructure must be inviting and make Iqaluit a place people can be proud of.
Annie Quirke, who attended the Sept. 20 meeting, said she agrees Iqaluit needs a bigger pool, “but I think that what they have here is a little bit too fancy.”
If the aquatic centre goes ahead, 250 people would be able to use the pool at the same time. Adults would pay $5.50 per swim and children would pay $2.75.
In the last Iqaluit ratepayers vote in 2006, ratepayers denied permission to the city for the borrowing of $18 million over five years.
That money would have paid for a new city hall and a new recreation centre, which would have included a pool.
Under the Cities, Towns and Villages Act, the City of Iqaluit must gain the approval of ratepayers in order to borrow money for more than a year.
If the ratepayers say no Oct. 15, the city could enter into a lease-to-own arrangement for the new aquatic centre. But the city says this will be more costly.