VANCOUVER NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe says if elected in the November municipal election, he'll restore the full $3.7 million committed by the Vision Vancouver-dominated city council towards a new seniors centre for southeast Vancouver.
"It's an unconscionable claw back," said LaPointe. "On so many levels it is such bad management."
The city recently announced it would no longer commit $1.2 million of that $3.7 million towards the project due to the fact the provincial government finally agreed to a long-awaited contribution.
In 2009, the park board committed land adjacent to the Killarney Community Centre for the project, and in 2011 the city earmarked $2.5 million in capital funds towards the estimated $7.5 million cost.
In 2012, the provincial government pledged $1.3 million, much less than the $2.5 million hoped for by the city and members of the Seniors' Arts and Cultural Society. When the provincial government continued to drag its feet on the extra funding, city council agreed in February to contribute another $1.2 million. That announcement followed a $2.5-million commitment from the federal government. But then in April the provincial government made the extra $1.2 million contribution official.
Seniors reacted with disappointment in July when the Courier obtained a memo from city manager Penny Ballem to council saying the April commitment from the provincial government eliminated "the need for the additional $1.2-million commitment by council."
LaPointe said due to labour demands in the city, Vancouver is an expensive place to build. He noted it's common for developers to expect projects to come in 15 to 18 per cent over budget.
"They're using a 2009 budget for this decision," said LaPointe. "I'm not an economist, but my hunch is that the cost will be much higher [than $7.5 million] by the time they get started on this project in 2015 or 2016. This to me is atrocious."
In response to the memo, Ainslie Kwan, president of the Killarney Community Centre Society said in a statement, "We were extremely concerned to learn that the current city council removed $1.2 million that was previously committed to building the much-needed southeast Vancouver seniors centre."
"Seniors in the area have long advocated for a dedicated space that will meet their programming needs and will be sustainable over the long term. Removing any committed funds now will jeopardize the quality of the centre and demonstrates a lack of compassion and respect for seniors in Vancouver.
"This about-face is disappointing. We have written to [Vision Vancouver] Mayor Robertson, councillor Raymond Louie and their colleagues requesting that our community and local seniors associations be directly involved in planning activities moving forward. To date, none have acknowledged or responded to our requests. We call on the current city council to reinstate the previously committed $1.2 million."
But Louie told the Courier the city is absolutely not withdrawing funding and accused LaPointe of playing politics.
"He's using misinformation to scare seniors," said Louie. "There is no money being pulled and his comments are totally inexcusable."
Louie said the city is confident the project can be completed with all of the necessary amenities, including a kitchen and elevator, within that initial $7.5 million budget.
"We have gone to great efforts to get this facility built," said Louie. "We're the ones that secured the funding and the park board committed the land. It's clear [LaPointe] is attempting to deflect from his inexperience. We're showing good value for the dollar by not spending more than we need to. We believe the centre can be built for the original $7.5 million and that's good news for the taxpayer."
Seniors advocate Lorna Gibbs agreed that Vision Vancouver, and in particular Louie, has worked closely with the Seniors' Arts and Cultural Society in making the new centre a reality, but she added this loss of what was assumed to be confirmed funding is a blow.
"I was surprised and disappointed to hear about this loss of funding," said Gibbs. "You have no idea how many times I've addressed council or written letters and now I have to wonder what was the point."
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