City hears opposition to Synergy purchase

By Geoff Lee

August 25, 2016 12:00 AM

Resident John Van Cleemput spoke out at council Monday against city's $4.7 million purchase and borrowing of the old Synergy Credit Union building.

Council recessed for legal counsel Monday to verify the legality of its debenture borrowing bylaw to fund the city’s $4.7 million purchase of the old Synergy Credit Union building.
Coun. Ken Baker’s own interpretation of the city’s charter that the purchase has to be a budgeted item prior to debenture borrowing, led the city to seek legal clarification.
“I didn’t want us to get in trouble approving something that wasn’t available to us,” said Baker, whose concern sent council into a legal huddle.
According to the city’s charter on long-term borrowing, “where the city provides for an expenditure not included in the current budget and provides for the creation of a debt not payable within the current year, it shall do so by bylaw.”
“This is the first time I have heard that if you pass a (bylaw) in council that automatically, if it’s a capital item, it changes the budget,” said Baker.
Council previously approved the $4.7 million purchase of the asset in June to eventually create a new Community Hub Catalyst for the downtown.
It’s estimated it could cost an additional $18-19 million to renovate the building that would be a new home for the library among other community services’ tenants.
The bylaw debenture is strictly for the cost of the building itself.
“The purchase can be done,” Mayor Rob Saunders told the media.
“As you witnessed today, we had legal counsel on the determination of the ability to move forward— that was just clarification we asked for and we got that.”
The bylaw passed despite some objections from resident John Van Cleemput who stepped before council to argue against the purchase.
“Scrap the whole thing,” he said in his main message.
“It’s too expensive to start with; there’s too many unknowns—four and a half million dollars for an old building, then we have to renovate it.”
He went on to say the possible tenants don’t know how much their rent would be and he questions if they could afford it.
Van Cleemput said if the city is looking for a central location, it could buy the vacant United Furniture store that’s listed for just $1.6 million.
He also wants to know what would happen to the city’s $260,000 deposit if the bylaw were to be rescinded.
“Where does the deposit go, have we lost it?,” he asked.
Van Cleemput was supported by a couple of letters presented with council documents, including one signed by Phylliss Hunchak and Robert Cherniak, both of whom are against the expenditure. 
“There is a greater need in our city for a water and sewer upgrade of over $80 million, to which you, as city administrators, have told us, the taxpayers, the city is unable to get financing for,” stated the couple.
They went on to note that with the economic downturn they feel “it is time for city to pull in the reins and face reality of today’s economy.”
Another letter presented at council by Robert Cuny stated, “Now is not the time for rampant spending by city Council on a community hub that will never be affordable for cash-strapped charities and community groups.
“Please cancel the $4 million purchase of the old Lloydminster Credit Union building,” he wrote.
“We are all hurting of the recent economic slow-down and the doubled city taxes.”

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