Council approves borrowing to pay for improvements to Lewis Centre in Courtenay

Courtenay council approved the "final step" Monday in the process to borrow $4.2 million for the renovation and expansion of the Lewis Centre.

Council unanimously passed a security issuing resolution, which, according to City director of financial services Tillie Manthey, is the final step council will take to access the funds.

The City will now request consent from the Comox Valley Regional District to borrow the funds from the Municipal Finance Authority of BC in its fall debenture issue.

She pointed out that if the City borrows this money from the MFA it will be at 31 per cent of its borrowing authority, which is average for similar municipalities.

"We are well within our authority limits, and we are comparable to other municipalities of our structure, tax base, etc.," added Manthey.

In October, the past council voted to borrow up to $4.2 million to renovate and expand the Lewis Centre.

The City received 212 verified elector responses opposing the borrowing through the alternate approval process, a fraction of the 1,802 responses needed to force a referendum.

Mayor Larry Jangula noted that the issue was a hot topic during the election and  some taxpayers were concerned about the amount of money going into upgrades to the centre.

"There's a lot of concern out there about spending this money and without the public having a say on it, so this is the difficult one for me," said Jangula. "I realize recreation is a big part of what we do, but there are other things out there (that need funding) as well."

Coun. Manno Theos pointed out that interest rates are low right now, and work is needed in the Valley.

"Interest rates are probably at their all time low and the demand for labour out there is high so this is a time, when borrowing, you can take advantage of, again, the good rates and the very motivated work force," explained Theos.

The entire renovation and expansion project — which  includes adding 14,000 square feet at the back of the centre, providing a new weightroom and space for meeting, storage, crafts and special needs — is expected to cost about $5.4 million. City staff project that $1 million would come from Community Works Fund gas tax reserves to fund mechanical and ventilation upgrades, while $4.2 million would come from borrowing.

Coun. Jon Ambler said that while it costs the City money to do the project, the upgrades will save some money in the long run, too.

"I think several of the elements that are going to be installed will be more effective and more efficient and therefore, more economical," said Ambler, who also mentioned it's been about 20 years since any "big" upgrades were done on the Lewis Centre.

Coun. Doug Hillian noted if the upgrades are not done the centre will continue to deteriorate. He also added to Theos' sentiment that a significant number of jobs will be created, which would help the City's economy during a tough time.

"When businesses in the community are hurting it's both appropriate and responsible for the City to use its capacity for procurement to stimulate the local economy," said Hillian.

City CAO Sandy Gray said staff will give a presentation to council outlining further details on the project, like the tendering process, during the planning session next week.

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