Unbeknownst to the Springbank Community Association (SCA), $2.2 million was recently spent on land purchased within Springbank using funds given to Rocky View County by the Alberta government as compensation for lost revenue resulting from the approval of the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir project (SR1).
The SCA learned about the land purchase – and the fact council is rewriting a policy on how to handle the remaining compensation funds – while they were in attendance at the Jan. 20 recreation governance committee meeting.
In response, the SCA wants to provide input into how the remaining money is spent and to maximize the funds using matching grants.
Rocky View County (RVC) received $10 million from the provincial government to address any future loss of municipal property taxes on the 3,870 acres of land used for SR1.
In May 2020, council passed a motion that if RVC received any compensation from the provincial or federal governments regarding damages or loss of tax revenue from the lands associated with the project, those funds would be earmarked for recreational or cultural amenities in Springbank. At the time, Coun. Kevin Hanson said it was “the only good thing coming out of this.”
Since then, $2.2 million of the $10 million has been allocated to acquire land next to the Springbank Park For All Seasons, which will be the potential home of a new community centre and recreation facility.
After a long discussion at the Jan. 20 meeting, council referred the funding grant policy back to administration in order to develop a standalone policy to manage the remaining Springbank Recreation Reserve Fund. The new policy will ensure the funds cannot be used by smaller one-off projects and focus instead on a larger legacy project impacting the greater Springbank area affected by SR1.
While Coun. Greg Boehlke did not support the creation of the new policy, other councillors in attendance voted in favour. Boehlke wanted the new policy to simply refer to the protection of the funds against small projects.
“All we need to do is simply state something about the funds derived from the dry dam project needing to be put into abeyance, protect it, until there is one project,” Boehlke said. “This is Springbank’s deal and if they would rather see the money go out at $200,000 or $2 million at a time, that’s what’s going to happen. And then eventually the money will be gone, and people will say we need a community centre and we had the money, but you spent it.”
Hanson said a current stakeholder group is working on what the legacy project for Springbank should look like, which could mean several expenditures toward a larger project.
Administration clarified that any funding requests from this reserve would come back to council for approval.
Karin Hunter, president of the SCA, said she was surprised when the issue came before the recreation governance committee on Jan. 20, and said nobody in the community association had been consulted.
While she was pleased to learn a new standalone policy is being developed on how to spend the funds, she said the SCA wants to provide input. She argued the SCA's advocacy contributed in large part to the County receiving the compensation.
“We do believe the community should have an opportunity to comment on that policy and how that money is used,” she said.
The SCA has not yet been engaged since administration began work on a new draft policy, but they remain cautiously optimistic, Hunter added.
“What we would say is if that money was sitting with the community in a non-profit or otherwise, it could be used for matching funds,” she said.
A non-profit working on a medium-to-large project can apply for municipal, provincial, and federal matching funds to double or triple the investment, she explained.
Hunter said it’s unfortunate that $2.2 million of the funds have already been used to buy land, without the consideration of matching funds.
“The $2.2 million is gone and if it had been used in the right manner, [RVC] could have generated $6 million of investment by tapping into matching fund opportunities,” she said, arguing these opportunities were overlooked due to the lack of input from the community.
Hunter said the SCA has asked RVC Mayor Don Kochan (whose division encompasses much of Springbank) to look into how best to enable the community and RVC to access matching funds so that the $10 million could be converted into $20 million or even $30 million.
Springbank lost its community centre in 2018 when it was demolished and there is currently no space for the community to gather for events.
The SCA would like to see a community facility built, which is currently underway, but believes the $10 million could do much more than just pay for a community centre.
“I think the councillors were unsure of what to do with that money – some thought it could be more than a community centre, some thought just a community centre, and we know we have lots of recreation needs out here,” Hunter said, listing parks, pathways, and a public gym as some of the Springbank community’s current needs.
The SCA board also suggested an endowment fund for the community to generate long-term income for the community to use on projects within Springbank over time. There are many possibilities for these funds and the SCA simply wants the County to pause and consider the options, Hunter said.
“We just want to take the time to step back and say how can we maximize this $10 million? How can we make this stretch the furthest for the Greater Springbank community, whether that's in the short term or long term?” Hunter said.
“It shouldn't just be $10 million, it should be much more than $10 million in the end. If we're smart, we should be able to leverage matching funds.”
The SCA is expected to release an official statement this week on this issue and a new policy by RVC administration is anticipated near the end of March, according to conversations during the Jan. 20 meeting.
Council also voiced some of their concerns around the boundary of Springbank as laid out in the draft policy that would determine where the funds could be used. The boundary did not include the area south of the Elbow River, an area that most councillors argued will be affected by SR1. That will be addressed in the new standalone policy as well.