North Kamloops couple Patti Wright and Blake Legros attended a Kamloops Centre for the Arts information session on Wednesday night with open minds, undecided as they arrived as to how they would vote in the April 4 referendum and hoping to learn how the project would impact their family’s finances.
As Western Canada Theatre season ticket holders, they said they feel inclined to support the project. However, wage stagnation and increased living costs have them concerned about their pocket books. Would they even be able to afford theatre tickets to the new facility?
“Kamloops is not the most affordable place to live,” Legros told KTW, citing a “sunshine tax.” “What I make here in Kamloops, I made 20 years ago up North.”
“We’re kind of stuck in the middle because we enjoy theatre, but we’re also homeowners,” Wright added.
The couple was not alone in their concerns, with finances dominating the information session. A retired couple told KTW they cannot afford property tax increases on a fixed income and would prefer to see a reduction when the Tournament Capital Centre is paid off. The city’s plan in building the arts centre is to roll those debt payments into the new project, resulting in no increase, but also no decrease, in taxes.
About 80 residents, Kamloops Centre for the Arts society members, city staff and councillors were on hand for the first of the city’s information sessions this week.
A second session will be held on Thursday night, downtown at Sandman Centre.
On Wednesday, the city made its pitch for the centre, explaining history and the need, identified in plans dating back 20 years.
Those in attendance heard how frequently sports facilities are utilized for arts and culture events, including the Tournament Capital Centre being tied up 68 days per year to host events like convocations.
Staff alluded to the city’s sports facilities when discussing the project, including the building in which the session was being held.
On Wednesday night, ice sheets for hockey and curling were bustling.
“You’re standing in a hockey rink that’s used all the time, primarily by young boys who use this facility, use the other five rinks that we operate, who enjoy that opportunity to grow, learn teamwork, learn how to gain friends, learn how to be people, learn how to be good citizens,” city community and protective services director Byron McCorkell told the crowd.
“That’s what we’re looking for here on the arts side. We’ve got space here for about 1,700 kids to play hockey and skate, speed skate, figure skate. We’re talking about 3,800 kids currently dancing in garages, basements and other little spots throughout the community.
“Now we’re talking about those people wanting to have their venue, so they can show off what they do and they can excel in what they want to be.”
A city roundtable session after the presentation saw city staff answer questions on specific areas of the project.
“Finances” had two tables, both of which were busy and resulted in heated conversation.
Comparatively, the “referendum” table explaining how and where to vote, was mostly empty of attendees.
City corporate services director Kathy Humphrey tackled the money questions one by one, with queries about what happens if the project goes over budget, plans for fundraising $22 million pledged by the society and tax implications.
One heated exchange occurred when a resident did not believe the project’s cost estimate of $70 million.
“I’m trying really hard to be transparent and provide all of the facts out there,” Humphrey told KTW. “It’s up to each person to believe what they want to believe and add up facts and take the information however they want to take it. Really, when I meet people who don’t believe my numbers, all I can say is. ‘These are my numbers as I’ve tried my very best to present to you. You need to inform yourself and do what you want to do.’ I can’t convince people. I just need to provide the facts.”
Mayor Ken Christian told KTW he received questions about operating costs of the facility.
Though capital costs to build the facility would not result in a tax increase, Humphrey said the operating costs could result in an increase of up to a half per cent.
Operating costs in the first year are expected to be $703,000, decreasing to $383,000 by the fifth year.
By comparison, the city’s operational costs last year for the Tournament Capital Centre was $1.3 million, while $752,000 was spent on Sandman Centre.
The reality is, Humphrey said, a facility like the proposed arts centre would be subsidized by the city and its inability to turn a profit is the reason why it has not been built privately, similar to hockey arenas and other public facilities and infrastructure run by the municipality.
Whether a majority of taxpayers are willing to take on that financial burden remains to be seen.
Leaving the event, Legros told KTW he remains skeptical the project will remain on budget.
“I think I’d vote against it just because I get a little jaded with Kamloops,” he said.
“It’s always pay for your dogs, you’ve got to pay taxes on your house. It’s going up every year. It goes up everywhere. My groceries have gone up. Everything is more, more, more.”
The referendum will be held on April 4, when voters will be asked if they approve of the City of Kamloops borrowing up to $45 million, to be used toward the cost of building an arts centre downtown, at the corner of Seymour Street and Fourth Avenue.