The issue: Ruth Inch Memorial Pool

We say: Must be replaced, and remain open

Two years is too long.

The suggestion that the city go 24 months without any sort of indoor aquatic centre while the old one is renovated – even if the new pool is twice as long – is difficult to swallow.

Daron Letts / NNSL photo
Yellowknife city Ruth Inch Memorial Pool aerial photo

The wait-while-renovate option made its appearance last week while city council was trying to pare down a 8.5 per cent tax increase.

A new, state-of the-art aquatic centre with a 52-metre pool is expected to cost approximately $50 million, council was told. This is the direction council has been heading in since the city-commissioned Aquatic Centre Pre-Design Plan was unveiled in October of last year. Last week, council was presented with an option of renovating the existing Ruth Inch facility with a 25-metre pool for $41 million, or $48.7 million for a expanded 52-metre pool, or a go ahead with a new building but only a 25-metre pool at $47 million.

Naturally, presented with these new options, council opted, as Coun. Niels Konge later commented, to kick the “can” down the road to next month.

Whether they’re imagining somehow coming up with the cash closer to the end of their four-year term, or worse, intending to pass the burden on to the next group elected, our city council has revealed their fiscal inexperience.

Every year the cost of everything goes up a bit (at least) the same way we all get older. You could set your watch by it. Take the city’s submarine water line saga, for instance.

The first eight-kilometre water line to the Yellowknife River was installed in 1969 at a cost of $7 million. At this year’s Snowking Festival, the federal government announced it would chip in a cool $25.8 million of the $35 million the city is expected to have to spend to replace it. That sounds great but back in 2012 when the city first began mulling over a replacement for the submarine line under Yellowknife Bay the price tag was an estimated $10 million.

Council of the day could have founded a water main replacement reserve, then budgeted to make a small contribution to it each year and watched it grow, however incrementally, as interest was collected on the principal. Because they didn’t, the taxpayers of today will probably end up paying interest to creditors instead.

Here’s an experiment: get the bank on the phone tomorrow and tell them that you won’t be making any mortgage payments in 2020. How proud the financiers will be that you figured out a way to prevent your household costs from increasing more than two per cent.

Cutting the tax rate not by addressing the ever-growing operations budget, but by putting off crucial capital investments, is basically the same thing. And it’s a major rookie move. Any accountant worth their salt will tell you that’s a recipe for disaster, or at least compounded misery. It’s shortsighted and lacks the fortitude needed to swallow a difficult fiscal pill.

Yellowknife’s capital budget projected the city spending a lot of money on an aquatic centre over the next three years: $9.6 million in 2020, another $28 million in 2021 and a further $9.6 million in 2022.

With last week’s deferral, taxpayers will be staring down almost $38 million next year to stay on the same timeline, or get used to putting up with a substandard pool for another year, and paying even more down the road.

This isn’t good enough. Councillors need to find the guts to shell out for a new, substantially improved aquatic centre now, with Ruth Inch staying open and operable until it’s ready to take its place.

In the meantime, get user groups involved and start fundraising now. Fifteen years ago, Facilities for Kids committed to raise $1 million toward funding the Multiplex. The Department of Defence added another $1 million toward the facility’s gymnasium.

These are tough fiscal times but the current pool is inadequate for a city of our size and does nothing to make a winter city like ours an attractive place to live.

Council already knows this. That’s why it’s time to get moving now before we all end up drowning in added debt that didn’t have to be.

Craig Gilbert

Craig is an award-winning journalist who has worked in Ontario, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta. He should be at least six feet away from you at all times.

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