DELORAINE — The rift between the supporters and opponents of a joint curling club and community hall in Deloraine was depicted by the makeup of the room.
The supporters were seated in the front of the standing room-only hall at Harvest Community Church Thursday night, while most detractors were situated in the back.
The split was exposed by the smattering of applause following each speaker.
At debate was the proposed $3.7-million complex, which opponents have ruthlessly fought despite a referendum six months ago the municipality thought would stifle the controversy.
In the succeeding months since last August’s narrow vote, Manitoba’s municipal board received more than 25 letters, which necessitated its involvement.
Opponents hired a municipal lawyer to make their case, and the local newspaper has printed numerous letters, including one from councillor Barry Janssens who wrote there has been a "lot of smoke and mirrors" in the municipality’s application.
Gauging the temperature of a debate that’s torn people apart, the first speaker, Tony Franklin, believed the friction between neighbours would be laid bare that night.
"You only have to look around this room, look at the emotion and passion created by this issue and it’s hard to ignore," the Deloraine School principal said. "Especially if a neighbour comes to your door, shows you his tax bill from 2008 and then he shows you his most recent tax bill has tripled, and the water plant and this potential complex isn’t even in the equation yet," he added, referencing a new water plant Deloraine ratepayers have not started paying for.
Despite significant increases in taxes, school levies and assessment valuations in recent years, which lay at the centre of many objectors’ concerns, Franklin, and the seven speakers who followed, argued this is a vital investment in Deloraine’s future.
The school made five trips to Waskada this year for curling, and each of the 16 spots were taken, Franklin said. More kids would have joined if they could.
"Curling isn’t everybody’s passion, but we need to invest in our community and invest in a facility for that next Edwards foursome to win Manitoba and head to the Brier and make another piece of history for Deloraine," Franklin said of the 1990 provincial champion skipped by Duane Edwards.
The previous curling rink and community hall, both separate complexes, were recently torn down because they were deemed structurally unfit.
A joint facility, uniting the two buildings, is not necessary for the community’s survival, but will enrich the lives of residents, Franklin argued.
"We need to be unselfish enough to see those benefits," he said.
"Our kids are smart," the principal said in closing. "They see us fighting about this exact issue and they’re learning from us and we’re modeling behavior that they will exhibit for years to come."
Bob Caldwell said the tight referendum result — decided by only seven ballots, 334 in favour and 327 against — is not a license to dismiss a democratic vote.
"It was close, but all referendums are close."
He said the community should be banding together to bring back curling and a community hall for numerous events.
"What would we have done this winter if the skating rink collapsed?" he asked rhetorically.
He discounted the argument of some critics that those who use should pay, saying it would be "illogical" to ask hockey parents to fundraise for an arena themselves.
Sara Rommelaere told the audience she loves Deloraine for its sense of community.
She wants places to support the community’s well-being.
"I support this project because someone I know curls, someone I love has curled and someone I have yet to meet will curl in this community; this community that is unselfish watches out for our neighbours and supports growth."
After a chorus of eight ratepayers voiced support, municipal lawyer Chuck Chappell sharply criticized the plan, which, he offered, would be nice to have if the municipality had the money.
"I suggest that this application has been ill-considered and suffers from fatal flaws," said Chappell, who argued the $350,000 fundraising pledge is a "pie-in-the-sky" estimate people shouldn’t consider to be a guarantee.
He said municipal ratepayers have already been "taxed to the max," contributing to some people fleeing. He said this is evidenced, at least in part, by approximately 40 homes on the market.
Chappell added the curling club has dwindling membership and the vacancy of commercial property is high.
"It’s worthwhile to have," he said of a curling club and community hall. "They just don’t have the money in place; let’s get the money in place and then let’s go."
He suggested, as the municipality did earlier this year in an interview with The Brandon Sun, the estimated $3.7 million price tag will rise given the delay in starting construction.
"This project is not realistic for the community at this time," Chappell said.
He also questioned the Deloraine Curling Club’s ability to afford a $20,000 down payment and a yearly promise to cover operating expenses.
In the past five years, the municipality has paid approximately $37,000 to the curling club to cover a variety of matters.
"Clearly, the Deloraine Curling Club cannot sustain itself," he surmised.
In closing, Head of Council Gordon Weidenhamer said every community thrives on volunteerism, and Deloraine-Winchester is no exception.
"It’s this kind of support the community has repeatedly showed that will help us surpass our fundraising goals," he said.
Recently, a vacation lottery and a fundraiser donating crop proceeds have been launched.
The municipality is prepared to break ground on the project if the municipal board approves. A ruling is expected in several weeks.
In addition to an expected $350,000 raised through fundraising and a $300,000 contribution from the Municipality of Brenda-Waskada, Deloraine-Winchester is banking on using $30,000 from the gas tax reserve and $20,000 each from the curling club and recreation reserve.
Residential property owners should expect their tax bills to jump by $116 for 25 years until the facility is paid off, if approved, and brace for a mill rate hike of .834.
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