BARRHEAD - Woodlands County residents and business-owners have voted overwhelmingly against helping to pay for a proposed culture and events centre in Whitecourt, as shown by the results of an online survey that was open to ratepayers during the first half of April.
Amongst the 446 valid responses that were received to the online survey, 82 per cent of respondents indicated they would not use the proposed culture and events centre.
A full 87 per cent further indicated they would not be willing to support a tax increase to pay for the centre’s construction and operating costs.
“We sincerely appreciate and thank everyone who took the time to fill out this survey,” said Woodlands County mayor John Burrows, in a release that was sent out on May 5.
“We want to make sure that we are engaging with and having a conversation with our residents. These surveys give Woodlands County residents and business-owners an opportunity to help guide direction on certain topics, like this proposed Events and Culture Centre.”
Koren Scott, communications co-ordinator for Woodlands County, indicated that council will be discussing the results of a survey at a future date.
Though she did not specify exactly when that conversation will occur, Scott did note that the survey results are not on the agenda for the May 11 council meeting.
Back in February, an ad hoc committee from the Town of Whitecourt made a presentation to Woodlands County council asking for the municipality’s support in building a proposed culture and events centre, which would also house the town library and municipal administration office.
The cost of construction cited at that time was $59.5 million, which would be funded through $32 million in government grants, a $10.7 million contribution from the Town of Whitecourt, $7.1 in contributions from other municipalities, $2.6 million in sponsorships and $7.7 million from the sale of assets and use of reserves.
After some debate, Woodlands County councillors decided to run an online survey to determine if residents would support a financial contribution to the construction and operating costs of the facility.
The online survey, which would also be filled out on paper at the municipal offices in Whitecourt and Fort Assiniboine, was launched on April 4 and was open until April 18.
It posed a theoretical scenario wherein the county took out a 10-year loan in order to provide a $7.1 million capital contribution and a further contribution towards operating costs.
In this scenario, the taxes of a resident with an assessed value of $326,000 on their home would go up $5.38 per month, while a small business valued at $499,50 would see a tax increase of $32.35 per month and an industrial business valued at $1.21 million would pay an extra $78.12 per month.
Not surprisingly, residents who lived closer to Whitecourt were more likely to indicate that they would use the centre and that they were willing to support a tax increase to help pay for it.
Only two per cent of respondents who either live or own businesses in Division 7 (Fort Assiniboine/Timeu) indicated they would use the centre, along with five per cent of respondents in Division 6 (Goose Lake/Freemand River) and 13 per cent of respondents in Division 1 (Anselmo).
Conversely, respondents in Division 3 (Whitecourt Central) indicated they were 26 per cent likely to use the centre, along with 21 per cent of respondents in Division 4 (Whitecourt East) and Division 5 (Blue Ridge).
Splitting the difference were respondents in Division 2 (Whitecourt West) to the tune of 17 per cent and respondents in Division 1 (Anselmo), who were 13 per cent likely to use the centre.
On the question of whether they would support a tax increase, only two per cent of Division 7 respondents indicated they would be in favour, followed by seven per cent of Division 6 respondents.
Nineteen per cent of Division 3 respondents were in favour of a tax increase, followed by 15 per cent of Division 5 respondents, 14 per cent of Division 4 respondents and 13 per cent of Division 1 and 2 respondents.
A total of 241 comments were also entered as part of the survey, a sampling of which Woodlands County provided along with the results.
Not all of them were negative; one respondent indicated that they were looking forward to the new opportunities that this centre could provide for their three children.
“We have many wonderful activities in this town for children that are heavily sports-based and I know my family would welcome the opportunity to venture out of that and into more arts activities,” they wrote.
However, most indicated that they were struggling financially following the COVID pandemic and the impact of inflation.
“As a resident that supports initiatives and recreation throughout the area, this feels to me to be excessive,” one respondent wrote.
“As all other forms of government taxes increase and residents learn to live within their means. This feels like a want (wish) by the town and not a need.”