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Soccer lights adds insult to pool injury

13/01/14 — Whether town councillors realize it or not – and my bet is that they do not – the 2013 capital budget adds insult to the injury of the closing of the Kinsmen Pool.

It’s a double insult actually, even triple.

You know the story of the pool. The previous council closed it because it required some major rehabilitation. The savings on operations while it was closed would be funneled into a reserve while a determination would be made on a permanent solution.

The Town had some money in the bank devoted to municipal facilities and community fundraising efforts were undertaken. A Dash ‘n’ Splash event raised a few thousand dollars.

While this was going on, the Town was working on a solution for the Point Abino Lighthouse.

In that situation, the Town had secured a commitment from the federal government for $425,000 to rehabilitate the lighthouse.

The Town would raise the rest of the money by selling the lighthouse keeper’s dwelling — itself being in very bad shape as well — and put a price tag of $899,000 on the property.

The two amounts would cover the estimated cost of fixing the lighthouse.

It all looked good on paper.

Then there was an election.

Unable to get the full price for the dwelling, town council accepted an offer of half the original asking price — by the person who owns the company which would be hired to fix the lighthouse, no less — and funded the shortfall with the money that had been eyed for the pool.

It was a 4-3 vote, courtesy of Bob Steckley, Paul Collard, Don Lubberts and John Hill.

The next budget came along in 2012 and the money wasn’t replaced; the savings on pool operations were not put into reserve; promises from the community to do the heavy fundraising were ignored and Fort Erie no longer has a community pool and there are no plans to replace it.

That was a 4-3 vote also.

Back in 2011 when the lighthouse deal was made, Steckley said financial challenges “doesn’t mean you stop looking after the assets you have.”

That was a smart thing to say then, but no such statement was made regarding the pool, a well-used, accessible public asset.

John Hill said he was working with the handful of proponents of the lighthouse to raise external funding for lighthouse restoration. So, how’s that going?

Here we are now in the midst of the 2013 budget. Hard feelings still exist over the lighthouse decision, which was based on negligible benefit, and the neglect of the pool — a decrepit eyesore for a community that just won a big national prize in the Communities-in-Bloom competition.

Now for the further insult.

Council tonight will consider spending $500,000 to put lights and irrigation at the Optimist Park soccer field.

That includes a $165,000 grant from the federal government, the promise of a $75,000 donation from the soccer club and a $260,000 contribution from the Town.

Councillors already approved a $180,000 contribution for the lights in December with irrigation to follow next year. Tonight, they will consider accelerating the project because the grant requires all the money to be spent in 2013.

So if council — and by that I mean the gang of four — can’t find the money to replenish the reserve for the pool, where the heck is the $260,000 for lights and a watering system at a soccer field coming from? And why did no one apply for a grant from the feds for the pool?

On top of that, the new soccer field, which the Town is leasing from the Optimist Club, requires an additional $50,000 a year to operate.

Now if you were a hyper-sensitive proponent of the pool, you would be even more insulted by the fact the soccer field is just a few miles down the very same road where the pool stands inside a chain-link fence, moldering behind the library beside the Town’s premier showcase park.

All is not lost, though. The kids from Fort Erie can bike out to the boonies to Optimist Park and splash around in the sprinklers.

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