Township Mayor Jack Froese has responded to critics who have denounced the $7.7 million expansion of the Langley Events Centre.
In his address at Monday’s council meeting, the mayor also took responsibility for not making a public announcement about the project until weeks after work began.
He said that on July 23, after several meetings, held in camera to protect the confidentiality of construction contracts, council authorized the Langley Facilities Society to proceed with the first phase of development.
This involves a new double gymnasium and an indoor turf/dry floor facility. These, as well as eight changing rooms, are currently under construction east of the LEC.
In-camera discussions were first held on June 11 when council sought proposals for the first phase of development, Froese revealed.
Funding comes from the $15 million Land Capital Fund which was approved in the 2012 budget “and was fully disclosed to the public and approved unanimously by council,” Froese said.
“The Township of Langley has used this fund in the past to facilitate construction of buildings or land acquisition and then complete a budget revision to include the project into a specified capital project fund,” Froese said.
He said that the LEC expansion costs will be included in the 2013 budget.
Asked in an interview why a public announcement was not made until work had begun, Froese said, “That’s a good question,” noting that final approval was given on July 23, the last meeting before council’s six-week break.
Several council members, including Froese, immediately left for holidays abroad.
“We didn’t expect it to go that fast,” Froese said of the process, “and I should have asked for a resolution. It was unfortunate, the six week break.”
In his Monday night statement, Froese said: “As members of council, we were unable to release any of this information as we are bound by legislation regarding confidentiality of ‘in closed’ meetings . . . In hindsight, as chair of the meeting, I should have asked for a motion to release as soon as the contracts were signed and complete.”
In that same interview, Froese said that at no time was the sale of the Township’s forested land in Glen Valley intended to finance the LEC expansion.
Part of the proceeds, however, had been earmarked to finance the purchase of the vacant Aldergrove Elementary school property where the Township plans to build a new ice rink (to replace Aldergrove Civic Arena), pool and community centre.
“The LEC expansion and the Aldergrove Recreation Centre are both moving ahead concurrently as two separate projects,” he said.
Funding for these projects will come from reserves and a multi-year plan of disposing of land assets that are surplus to the Township’s needs.
“The taxpayers will not be shouldering the capital cost of these projects,” Froese said.
The LEC expansion will not impact taxpayers, as operational costs will be absorbed by using existing LEC staff and increased revenue. However, there will be a cost to taxpayers to cover some of the operating expenses of the Aldergrove Recreation Centre, which will be built into subsequent budgets, he said.
Council’s lack of public consultation was condemned by Councillor Kim Richter. In a letter to the editor (Secret spending smells, Sept. 13), Richter slammed the decision, saying it was “highly unethical, if not illegal.”
In a letter to the editor in today’s Times (page 9), Councillor Grant Ward takes Richter to task, and calls the facility “the crown jewel” in Township’s parks and recreation division.
Froese’s comments came only hours after the LEC announced that tickets will go on sale at 11 a.m. on Saturday (Sept. 22) for one of the centre’s biggest draws since it was opened three years ago: The Holiday Festival on Ice Tour, bringing to Langley some of the top skaters Canada has produced: Joannie Rochette, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko and Jeffery Buttle.