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Councillors approve BIA budget despite fact some funding will be used to fight entertainment district

After lengthy debate, council rejects staff suggestion to remove $20K slated for appeal out of budget
After a lengthy and convoluted debate -- which saw motions defeated and then reconsidered -- councillors approved the downtown Sudbury BIA's full budget, as presented, by a vote of 8-3. (File)

The issue that keeps haunting this term of city council reared its head again Tuesday, as councillors debated whether to approve the budget of the downtown Sudbury business improvement area.

After a lengthy and convoluted debate -- which saw motions defeated and then reconsidered -- councillors approved the BIA's full budget, as presented, by a vote of 8-3.

At issue was $20,000 the BIA approved to fund its appeal of the rezoning needed for the Kingsway Entertainment District. While only the 400 members of the BIA fund the group's $534,000 budget, the city collects the money on behalf of the BIA and has the power to reject budget items.

The BIA opposes moving Sudbury Arena out of downtown, and has joined in the appeals with groups fighting the casino that's also planned on the Kingsway.

A staff report recommended the city pass the BIA budget, minus the $20,000. CAO Ed Archer said the BIA is a creation of council, with a mandate to improve downtown buildings and promote the area as a shopping and business area.

In his opinion, it's “outside the mandate” of the group to sue city council, Archer told members of the finance committee Tuesday.

“It is council's absolute right to remove expenditures they disagree with.”

Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan, a strong supporter of the KED, said he can't understand how it could be in the BIA's mandate to sue the city over a planning decision. 

“It's a land use decision,” Kirwan said. “That's far beyond the scope of what the downtown BIA is all about.”

Joining the appeal of the casino, he said, was particularly puzzling since it was never considered for downtown.

“That has nothing to do with promoting the downtown area as a shopping area.”

He suggested council cut ties with the BIA and let them operate on their own – including collecting the money for their budget.

“It could be independent,” Kirwan said.

But Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti, a strong opponent of the KED, said the city may collect the money for the budget, but it comes only from BIA members.

“It's actually members' money,” Signoretti said. “So that's their decision.”

While the BIA may be a creation of council, he said the province has control over municipalities, but cities can sue the province.

“It's their money (and) we're looking at taking out a facility from downtown,” Signoretti said. “They have every right to challenge it.”

Archer said Toronto has rules in place restricting what the BIA can do when it comes to challenging council decisions, and Peterborough brought in new rules after the BIA there sued the city in 2016. 

But there's no direct rule in the Municipal Act saying BIA's can't use their budget to sue the city, he said.

“So there's no clear answer for you,” Archer said. “But it is legitimate for you to take it out of the budget.”

Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann lamented the fact the BIA was spending $20,000 on a legal appeal rather than improving downtown. But, she said, they are only spending money provided by their members.

“So the relevant question is, is it legal?” 

Without a clear rule to prevent it, she said the BIA should be able to spend its money however members decide.

Ward 11 Coun. Lynne Reynolds, however, said it was reckless to allow the BIA to continue “to damage the downtown,”

“It's not the BIA's downtown – it belongs to all of the people,” Reynolds said. “That damage can't be calculated right now.”

But Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier said if there's no rule against it, then the city shouldn't try and impose a no-lawsuit rule on the BIA after the fact. 

While the BIA bylaw needs to be updated, and maybe tighter restrictions put in place, now was not the time.

“That should be done when cooler heads can prevail,” Cormier said.

“We have to deal with the rules the way they are. We can't change the rules retroactively.”

Mayor Brian Bigger said he supports KED and the planning decisions, but he believes the BIA is spending its own money.

“It doesn't affect a taxpayer anywhere else in the community,” Bigger said. “I won't support taking back $20,000 of their budget.”

In the end, council voted 8-3 to approve the entire BIA budget.

How they voted:
Mayor Brian Bigger: Yes
Ward 1 Coun. Mark Sigoretti: Yes
Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini: Yes
Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier: Yes
Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac: absent
Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan: No
Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre: Yes
Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo: No
Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer: Yes
Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh: Absent
Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier: Yes
Ward 11 Coun. Lynne Reynolds: No
Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann: Yes