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Stars and Thunder: Timmins councillor accuses mayor of 'creative accounting'

More comments after Tuesday's fiery meeting
Hollinger Grandstands July 1 2017
The historic grandstands in Hollinger Park will be refurbished thanks to a major NOHFC grant made possible by the Stars and Thunder festival. Andrew Autio for TimminsToday

A spirited debate on Tuesday night regarding financial numbers for the Stars and Thunder festival led to a difference of opinion on what 'the real numbers' are. 

As council heads towards a decision on whether or not to proceed with a similar festival next summer, councillors Joe Campbell and Rick Dubeau have strongly disagreed with how Mayor Steve Black put his numbers together.

A major point of contention was the inclusion of a large grant from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation in the 'revenue' column.

The amount of $369,570 will be used for new soil in sections of the park, as well as long-term upgrades to the 80 year old Hollinger grandstands.

"We have to do soil remediation at the park. Its been out there for almost a year now that we have to do some remedial work at the park, and the grandstands would need work if we want to keep them in their existence, as well as park electrical work. Some of that work was done preemptively for the festival, in terms of electrical work and I.T. networks," Black told reporters after Tuesday's meeting.

Black said a 'very small portion' of the $369,570 grant would be used on the electrics and Internet connectivity capabilities for the park, and added that the only reason the city received the money, was because of the festival.

"The grant category is economic development infrastructure. The whole application for the grant was based on the economic development, and the economic benefit to Timmins from being able to host 'Stars and Thunder' type events."

The grant has a $100,000 limit, which the city successfully appealed.

"Given the nature and the size of the festival, and the importance of having this infrastructure in place for the future. We were successful in the appeal. When they first sent us the grant, it was for half the amount, and we appealed and said 'no, we would like to add these items to the application to bump up the amount we could get for the grant, knowing that would be required," said Black.

On Tuesday, Campbell charged that Black's report was essentially 'creative accounting' to make the bottom line seem more palatable to the public. Black further addressed those remarks after the meeting.

"I agree that its not a direct revenue for the festival, but that $370,000 was going to come out of the taxpayers pockets if we did not apply for a grant, using the festival and the benefit of the community that the festival has to access that type of grant," he said.

As has been discussed at council many times over the past few years, there was a very strong sentiment from the public to save the historic structure which has been a Timmins landmark for 80 years. In March, the city applied for extra NOHFC funding, aiming to refurbish the structure, not just for local sports, but primarily to host major concerts going forward.

"We're not going to get that for the baseball that's hosted in the park. There's no economic development or economic benefit to having baseball at Hollinger Park that would qualify for that size of a grant from the province. You can throw in Sk8te Hollinger and you can throw in the playgrounds and stuff, that does not meet the requirements for an economic development grant," said Black.

He said the point of the meeting was to show what the net impact would be on the pockets of local taxpayers.

"Not to follow allocating all the staff time. What the net impact on the taxpayers was, and the net impact of the festival is minus $540,000. The net benefit of the grant was $370,000, you're down to $170,000, we've still got $125,000 of fireworks. We deducted that, if you want to leave it in, we're minus $150,000"

City Treasurer Jim Howie will be producing a full detailed financial report on the eight day Stars and Thunder festival, but he said its likely at least a month away from being ready.

"We have an obligation to get the right number out there. We have a shortfall, bigtime. I'm not suggesting we don't go ahead with it, but we learned enough about this thing that we could probably put together a proper budget, a proper business plan. Lets get the real numbers out, whatever the final number is, and let the Treasurer put the report out," Campbell told reporters after Tuesday's meeting.

"I realize what Steve's doing, and I realize the principles that some of this money would be spent next year, so that's money you don't have to spend next year. But the reality is that is not this year's cost. You can't accrue revenue this time, when you still have that work to do. You can't say I got all this money for remediation and the grandstand, you haven't done the work. So you have an offsetting cost to do the work. So its really revenue neutral at that point."

Several Councillors have made it clear they will be supporting another festival. The next meeting is August 22.

Andrew Autio

About the Author: Andrew Autio

Andrew Autio is a journalist based in Timmins. He covers city hall, community events, and interesting local stories.
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