In keeping with my commitment to transparency and accountability, please take the time to read this Letter to the Editor.

I am consistently asked by citizens about the cost of the Civic Centre to the Town of Port Hawkesbury. I think this information will clarify that cost and I hope it will also have a positive impact in planning for our future.

When the “Believe It” campaign began in 2003, excitement grew and strong community engagement ensued. The people, the businesses, the industries and all levels of government came together to make it a reality. Wikipedia states, “It promised to have the capacity to hold 1,000 people for hockey, 1,700 for banquets, and 2,000 for concerts. In 2007, Business Week on-line named the Civic Centre as one of the top 10 most impressive sports arenas in the world.” The Civic Centre cost was $18.14 million and it was most definitely an impressive accomplishment.

The facility is worth roughly $20 million. The capital cost/debt to taxpayers was $5.98 million. Of this $5.98 million, $2.08 million was paid through local fundraising efforts, which left a net debt load of $3.9 million. In addition, between the years 2006 and 2009, private sector funding was received annually to offset operating costs of the Civic Centre in the amount of $1.14 million over the four years.

As of March 31, 2016 our Civic Centre debt load is $2.7 million. The debt is scheduled to be paid in 2022; however, due to large balloon payments in that year, refinancing of the remainder is likely. Time tell if refinancing will be necessary.

The revenue generated by the Civic Centre in 2014-15 by rentals for rooms, ice, and events etc. totals $459,299.90. The expenses generated by the Civic Centre in 2014-15 due to costs for events, administration and salaries, security, maintenance, utilities, linen cleaning, marketing and promotions, etc. totals $940,754.12. For the sake of clarity, absorbed in the Civic Centre expenses is approximately $115,000 that would otherwise be spent if the town offices were they located elsewhere. This cost would exist with or without the Civic Centre.

The difference (minus the cost for town offices) for 2014-15 is $366,454.22. For 2015-16, the difference between our expenses ($940,000) and our revenues ($502,000), for our town office spaces ($115,000) is $323,000. When we compare 2014-15 and 2015-16 there is a reduced cost to taxpayers of $43,454. The gap between yearly revenues and yearly expenses is our reality.

In the past four years, town council, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and town staff were able to work towards budgetary improvements, despite other challenges. These included an increase to the cost of protective services, an increase to the cost of education, a decrease in equalization payments from the province to our town, and the fact that the last of our above mentioned $2.08 million fundraised monies had run out. In 2016, we do have a world-class “green” multi-purpose facility worth approximately $20 million at a cost to our taxpayers of $3.9 million. In approximately six years, we will have the capital debt paid if we continue on our present course.

There is, however, a difference between cost and value. This Civic Centre is our asset; it belongs to all of us. We have easy access to our town offices, an art gallery, a gym, spaces for meetings and concerts, a walking track, a world-class rink, canteen/catering facilities, and more. The 2016-2020 council can potentially get us closer to bridging the gap between our Civic Centre’s revenues and expenses. A shift in focus to both keep expenses in check, and to create new avenues for increased revenues will prove vital in improving our finances.

This is our town, our Civic Centre. As a voter, you have an opportunity to ask each of the candidates for council what innovative suggestions they might have for increasing our revenues at the Civic Centre. Do they understand the challenges of the Civic Centre? Do they understand the value of the Civic Centre? Will they be contributors for positive change? Know the facts. Ask the questions. Municipal elections have the greatest direct impact on our lives!

Make an informed decision at the advanced polls, or on October 15, Election Day. Vote. I encourage you to share this information to help inform others.

Brenda Chisholm-Beaton
Port Hawkesbury