Red Deer County has rejected Westerner Park’s request for $1 million to upgrade the Centrium.
County council debated and unanimously turned down the request, which Westerner Park hoped to leverage to get a matching $1 million provincial grant. The money was to go towards a $2.1 million project to replace the arena’s ice plant and climate control systems, which are 30 years old and nearing the end of their lifespans.
County Mayor Jim Wood said while he was “torn” by the decision he could not support providing the cash.
“I would feel way different if the ask was not for the ice,” said Wood, noting that Westerner Park hosts many events that agriculture-related, such as Agri-Trade.
However, the county does not have enough in reserve funds set aside for this kind of spending and would have to find the money elsewhere.
“Sometimes there’s only a certain amount of funds to go around,” he said. “This may be something we can’t afford at this time.”
“I’m just uncomfortable with this request coming forward so soon and I’m on the (Westerner Park) board,” said Coun. Christine Moore.
Coun. Connie Huelsman said the county does its part to help surrounding communities, including the City of Red Deer, which oversees Westerner Park.
The proposed upgrades also have little connection to the county’s agricultural focus.
“I don’t feel it’s ag-related and what Red Deer County stands for specifically,” said Huelsman. “At this point, I can’t put any money forward. I support the motion to deny.”
Some skepticism about Westerner Park’s financial future troubled Coun. Richard Lorenz.
“I do not believe that the plan they brought to us is feasible,” he said. “We’ve asked some questions and they haven’t provided any answers on how they’re going to move forward.”
Coun. Jean Bota said there was no guarantee that Westerner Park will get the hoped-for provincial grant and agreed a project more connected to agriculture would be better.
“I would like to see something more agricultural, so at this point I’m not supporting this.”
Some councillors questioned whether the needed money could come out of contributions the county already makes to city facilities.
Under its current recreation agreement, the county pays the city $828,490 per year. That will be bumped up to $893,820 for the last two years of the five-year agreement that runs through 2024.
As well, contributions will be made for the upkeep of specific facilities, such as arenas, pools, outdoor fields and skateboard parks. Those contributions total $432,500 per year.