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CUPE promises P3 fight; Mayor says council will decide


Welland Tribune- Feb. 8, 2008

If the city wants to enter a public-private partnership to build a new soccer facility off Woodlawn Road it will have a fight on its hands.

CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan visited the city Wednesday to talk with members of Local 1115, which represents the city’s 74 inside workers. About two dozen attended the meeting at city hall.

The union will try to mobilize community opposition to a P3 project if council decides to proceed, Ryan said.

Mayor Damian Goulbourne said talk of opposing a P3 project is premature because the city has not yet made a decision regarding what facilities the city will build.

He also had pointed words for the provincial CUPE president.

“My council decides what’s in the best interest of Welland, not Sid Ryan,” he said Thursday after returning from a four-day fact-finding visit to South Carolina.

City council made a democratic decision to explore all development possibilities, he added.

“It’s my council that makes the decision, not visitors to the city.” Ryan said P3 projects end up costing taxpayers more in the long run and cost higher-paying union jobs. He says several Ontario cities have successfully fought P3 projects, such as hospitals, arenas and other infrastructure.

Such projects invariably cost taxpayers more than if the municipality built it itself, Ryan said. Generally, private companies cannot borrow money on the market at as low interest rates as governments.

That’s because unlike governments, who have taxation powers, companies cannot compel anyone to provide them revenue.

“One or two per cent on millions of dollars over a couple of decades adds up,” Ryan told the audience.

That leads to higher financing costs, he said.

Private partners often negotiate the right to operate the facilities, and look to make a profit. That means users pay higher fees in privately run facilities than in public ones.

Goulbourne says the city isn’t in a position to borrow $20 million to $30 million for a recreation facility like Niagara Falls or St. Catharines have recently. Last fall city council directed staff to explore all options for funding recreation facilities because it is close to its self-imposed financing limit, in part because of costs for building the civic square.

The mayor said council is exploring its options to deliver recreational services. No decision is imminent, in part because the arena feasibility committee has just started its work.

The city will also explore partnerships with other municipalities and non-profit organizations before making any decision.

Council has referred a staff report on P3 prospects to its budget review committee, which meets Tuesday.

Local 1115 president Scott Richardson said he’s concerned about his union members’ jobs. But he’s also concerned about his own tax bill. “We’re not opposed to a new sports park. We’re concerned with how it’s going to be run,” Richardson said.

Ryan said CUPE wants to appear before city council Feb. 19.

But the mayor said council rules limit delegations to speak about issues on the agenda.

If the union wants to discuss concerns, its leadership can call for a labour-management meeting, and that such a meeting would take place before the next council meeting.

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