An additional $1 million for supporting cash-strapped Westerner Park if pandemic cancellations continue, was included in the City of Red Deer’s 2021 operational budget.
City manager Allan Seabrooke said the $3 million the city already granted towards supporting Westerner Park operations through the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to run out by next spring.
As it’s still unknown whether the viral threat will lessen, allowing for Westerner Days and other events to be held in next summer, he proposed adding another $1 million into next year’s operating budget just in case more municipal support is needed.
Seabrooke noted that several more event cancellations have happened since the last aid funding was given to sustain the non-profit exhibition grounds.
Coun. Lawrence Lee predicted the proposed $1 million in 2021 won’t be enough and suggested adding another $1.5 million for possible Westerner Park in the 2022 budget.
But the rest of council did not agree.
In fact, Coun. Vesna Higham wanted to remove even the proposed $1 million in 2021 for Westerner Park, saying this earmarked funding was premature.
Who knows if this much assistance will be needed, she said. And even if it is, she suggested Westerner Park officials should make their case to council directly, next year, with new information about their financial status. She said this request should be “transparently” debated at a public council meeting.
“We don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know if they will need $1 million or $2 million and we don’t know the best way to structure it,” added Higham. “If it’s a loan, is it with or without interest? If it’s a grant will there be a dividend given back?”
Most councillors agreed that additional funding requests from Westerner Park should be dealt with transparently at a public meeting. But they also felt it would be poor planning, given so many continuing pandemic uncertainties, if council failed to put aside some money for continued Westerner Park assistance, if it’s needed.
“It’s unrealistic not to put anything in there. We are in the budgeting process,” said Lee.
“I agree 100 per cent,” said Coun. Dianne Wyntjes. “We may or may not use it, but it needs to be in the budget.”