NANAIMO — For the first time, Nanaimo residents are getting a look at all of the costs related to the events centre proposal.
A preliminary City report showed the whole process cost almost $859,000, nearly $63,000 over budget. Phase three saw significant overruns at $243,000 and the referendum ended up costing $36,000 more than budgetted.
Chief financial officer Victor Mema said phase three cost more since the City was constantly altering their business plan based on community input, as well as legal matters related to referendum preparations.
He said the referendum itself overran the $130,000 approved by Council because of advertising, facility and staff time.
Eighty per cent of the nearly 24,000 votes cast were opposed to the concept.
When asked, Mema said there was never any point where he doubted spending money on a project which would inevitably not go forward.
“You can't presuppose how people are going to vote,” he said. “Our role in this process was to provide information, not to ask people how to vote.”
Coun. Bill Bestwick agreed with Mema and said council had a responsibility to inform the public about the process.
“You try to be prepared and do as much research and investigation as you possibly can in order to provide as accurate information as you can,” Bestwick said. “I think the citizens demanded that once it was determined by council that we were proceeding with a referendum on an event centre.”
He said there was no point where he believed they should have halted the event centre process.
“I don't think you can go two-thirds of the way to a referendum and then say 'OK, we're not going to proceed anymore.' We needed to go ahead to allow the community to say how they felt and they did and that's fine,” he said. “If we'd stopped after phase two, it would have been a real injustice.”
City coun. Diane Brennan, when asked the same question, said she believed the process should never have gone as far as it did.
“We'd never gone to the public and asked for their feedback on this proposal. Once we were in the midst of the process...it was very clear the public was not interested in building an arena that we would be the sole participant in,” she said.
Brennan pinpointed two moments where Nanaimo's council should have stopped: the beginning of phase two and in a December council meeting where the community voiced their concerns over the project.
“I think at that point we should have stopped and reconsidered what we were doing but we continued to spend money,” she said.
A final report on the event centre costs is expected in 30 to 45 days, according to the City. You can view the preliminary cost summary here.
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