Sports groups ask council to renew grant program as part of Edmonton budget
Sport is a 'necessary part of physical, mental and character development'
About 50 people petitioned Edmonton city council Monday ahead of deliberations this week on next year's operating and capital budgets.
Several speakers urged council to renew a $3.7 million community-investment operating grant for social service, sport and recreation non-profits offering a variety of programs.
Funding for the grant program is currently not included in the proposed 1.8 per cent tax increase for 2022 budget.
Sheldon Oleksyn, executive director of Sport Central, said they use the grant to provide kids from lower-income families with equipment and gear in 15 different sports.
Sport Central uses about $16,500 from the program to help 236 kids a year, Oleksyn said.
Sport is a "necessary part of physical, mental and character development," he said.
"I've never heard so many parents and people talk about the importance of sport for mental health for their kids as I have in the last year," Oleksyn said.
Coun. Aaron Paquette said community members he has heard from support extending the program.
"They feel that this should not be a program that's on life support, it should be something that's embedded in the way that we do things," Paquette said.
Tim Adams, with Free Play for Kids, couldn't agree more — saying one of the biggest challenges for non-profits is surviving from grant to grant.
Other advocates urged council to approve a proposed budget increase of $41 million for the Coronation Park Sports and Recreation Centre.
The increase is needed to start building the facility — designed to include an indoor cycling track, fitness centre, multipurpose rooms and a child play space — at an estimated cost of $153 million, up from the previous estimate of $112 million.
Stephen Bourdeau, general manager of the World Triathlon Series Edmonton, has helped develop plans for the centre for 10 years.
He said volunteers have collectively donated thousands of hours into the centre.
"Windsor Park, Westmount, and surrounding communities, Glenora, have been waiting patiently for a long time for their facility with a much-needed proximity to year-round recreational opportunities."
Bourdeau suggested the facility would attract international events and bring tens of millions of dollars in economic impact, as well as build a positive reputation for Edmonton as a sports tourism hub.
Coun. Erin Rutherford has previously said she supports the project which will bring needed recreation opportunities to the area.
"This adjusted budget better meets community needs," Rutherford wrote in an email last week.
The Amalgamated Transit Union encouraged city council to invest more in public transit routes and peace officers.
Steve Bradshaw, president of ATU local 569, noted the city hasn't increased service hours in six years.
"Not funding an expanded and improved transit service is crippling Edmonton," Bradshaw said.
"Build it and they will come," Bradshaw said. "If we expect ridership to recover and advance, we need to provide convenient, fast and comprehensive service, and it has to be clean and safe."
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The Chamber of Commerce also attended the hearing and, contrary to previous years where it lobbied for a zero-tax increase, new president and CEO Jeffrey Sunquist said he finds the proposed increase reasonable.
He highlighted several areas that the city can focus on to improve conditions for businesses affected by the pandemic.
"Edmonton's downtown core and business districts in all areas of Edmonton have suffered severe economic impacts," Sundquist said. "Reduced foot traffic, extensive construction and safety concerns have resulted in consequences including loss of revenue, staffing shortages, relocations and closures."
Council will start debating budget adjustments on Tuesday and is expected to wrap up the last of the four-year budget session by Dec. 17.