City plans to help in ice rink renovations

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— Although two City Council members worried about spending more general fund money on a project not approved by the voters changed their initial votes from yes to no, the ice rink committee got the city's promise to help finance a renovation project.

After giving more unanimous support to the project on March 13, when it first came to council, the question of who would pay for the improvements loomed large at Tuesday night's meeting.

The Ice Rink Advisory Committee has been able to secure about $700,000 in donations and in-kind services and asked the city to pitch in with about $2.3 million more through a "certificate of participation", somewhat like a lease purchase agreement or a mortgage. The city had initially banked on a $3 million certificate, though the numbers will likely continue to change as bidding begins. The certificate does not need to be presented to the voters.

Council was swayed by the private sector's participation, which Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell felt was unprecedented on this sort of project.

"At no time have I ever seen the community come up with as much of a dollar amount," Connell said.

Council members Ken Brenner and Paul Strong both expressed concern over the fact that the city will be dipping into its general fund and circumventing the voters to pay for the improvements. Although ice rink committee members have claimed the city will actually be spending less than it would have if it had waited, Brenner said he would have liked to see the issue go to the voters during a November election to see if they would approve a property tax, as staff initially suggested.

"The difficulty for me is not one of whether or not we build the facility, but who pays for it," Brenner said.

Strong called the move "fiscally irresponsible."

A new refrigeration system and new locker rooms are planned to be installed this summer, with the refurbished rink hopefully opening in September.

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