LETTER: Proposal doesn’t resonate with current community

Dear Editor:

On Sept. 12 we’re being asked to vote about raising property taxes to pay for the new community centre. It’s critical that you show up. 

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to understand what’s going on with this project. I’ve talked to folks on muni council, muni staff, and many community members. As usual, there are lots of conspiracy theories, as well as some very confusing communications that leave a lot of questions unanswered.

I can’t help but feel we’re being marketed to rather than engaged with, which is why so many are unhappy with the current plan. Lots of communications urging us to vote “yes” to the community centre (and higher taxes). No communications asking for meaningful engagement on what we’re actually building.  

I can imagine that the muni wants this to be done with after decades of debate, consulting, and reports. The problem is that most of the community engagement pre-dates the large influx of new residents on the island. One-third of the island is new since 2015. Yet, many of the ideas baked into this plan are 10-20 years old and don’t resonate with the current community.

We need to ask ourselves a critical question: is this the community centre we want?

 When I dug into the cost of the building, I realized we’re spending a tremendous amount of money on the performance hall. No one from the muni would or could tell me what percentage this part of the building accounts for, but I was told it was the “lion’s share” of the budget. I heard this exact phrase more than once. There’s a $14.5 million budget with $2.2 million going to municipal offices, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to what the performance hall will cost. This is going to be a “state of the art” facility with serious investments in acoustic treatment, high-end lighting and sound system, a fully sprung floor, and very expensive retractable seating. 

This performance hall is why the building is so expensive. We could replace it with a number of amenities like courts, or an indoor climbing wall, or a skate park, or whatever, and avoid having to borrow money or raise taxes. 

The performance hall feels like the dream of a very small percentage of the island, who have been admirably engaged in this process for years. I’m an artist and musician. I love the arts. I still can’t make sense of how we’d use this performance hall. We need to ask ourselves if this plan represents the interests and needs of the broader community. How would we know if the community hasn’t been asked in a meaningful way? 

It’s disappointing to hear we’re so far down the path with this government grant. It puts us in a tough spot. That said, without meaningful community engagement, I don’t believe this plan represents our community, and I can’t in good conscious vote “yes” to raising taxes to pay for it. The small group of folks who have been pushing this plan for years will be out to vote. Will you? 

—Steve Rio

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