Quick action taken last Tuesday at a special meeting of the Salt Spring Parks and Recreation Commission (PARC) may help the island hold on to more than half a million dollars in federal grant funding — but it comes at a cost, and prompted a discussion about how a park system with millions of dollars in assets — and zero debt — could fund projects in the future.
At issue was a $561,748 grant from Pacific Economic Development Canada (PEDC), meant to bolster a project revitalizing the Centennial Park Plaza — specifically removing and replacing the park’s concrete and brick pavers, improving drainage, lighting and some landscaping. In order to keep the funding, the project would need to be completed by March 31, 2023. Adding to the time crunch, any construction in the plaza would have to be out of the way before the Saturday market opens in mid-April to avoid disrupting that keystone resource.
But only one contractor submitted a bid for the work. And while that bidder was confident they could complete a winter construction project in the few months remaining — and agreed to financial penalties that would accrue each day over the allotted time — the bid came in at a higher cost than what was projected back in August, just under $1 million.
To keep the federal funding intact, the budget shortfall of just over $300,000 will be met — re-allocated from the Community Works Fund (CWF) per a motion passed with approval from a majority of PARC members and the support of Capital Regional District (CRD) director Gary Holman.
CWF funding is made up of federal gas tax monies, allocated based on population to local governments in B.C. The CRD receives funds for each electoral area — Juan de Fuca, Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands — and distributes those dollars on a per-capita basis for eligible investment categories. As the decision-maker for that funding, Holman said he would work with staff to find economies in other programs — and, hopefully, within the bid of the Centennial Park project itself — but he maintained that the future local community commission (LCC) should eventually be making decisions like this as a group, rather than leaving it up to a single director.
“I can’t let $561,000 in grant funding go,” said Holman. “But whatever the Community Works contribution is, I’ll be looking for adjustments elsewhere. There have been increases in Community Works allocations to a whole number of other services, so staff and I need to go through the whole list of services and find some savings.”
Holman had championed the LCC during his most recent campaign for re-election; both he and the referendum creating an LCC gained voter approval in October.
“Community works [distribution] is not delegated to the LCC,” continued Holman. “So, it comes down — again — to one person, which is problematic. Hopefully, over time, we can change that.”
Several commission members expressed concerns over how much other projects might suffer with fewer dollars from the CWF. CRD senior manager Karla Campbell pointed out that it wouldn’t be current projects, but future ones, which might be partially or mostly funded from reserves, but would need grant monies to show as fully funded.
“Those future projects that may be at risk [of reduced Community Works funding] would be subject to grant funding anyway, in your capital plan,” said Campbell. “So they weren’t guaranteed to be funded unless there was a grant that you got awarded. That’s what would be at risk.”
With a $2.9-million loan for the Rainbow Road Pool completely paid off as of last year, said Holman, the commission had a strong financial position that might be leveraged into additional borrowing going forward — should the future LCC and voters approve.
“Parks and Rec has tens of millions [of dollars] in assets,” said Holman, “and zero debt. The commission has been basically paying cash, whether it be a requisition, reserves, or Community Works.”
It’s good news, according to Holman, but perhaps not sustainable, particularly as construction costs continue to rise.
“It’s putting us between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “Every time we go for a bid, we’re getting a rather nasty shock coming back.”
Given the financial burden — and the potential for conflict with the Saturday market opening date should construction face delays — PARC staff also will ask PEDC if they would agree to extend their deadline to November 2023.