Minden Hills council pre-approved spending another $200,000-plus at the S.G. Nesbitt Arena and Community Centre during its first round of budget talks Dec. 10.

The money includes up to $60,000 for office furniture, preparation of a request for proposals for the design, purchase and installation of fitness equipment; other costs to get the centre up and running of $93,600 and COVID-19-related sanitization and cleaning expenses of $47,900.

Where the money will come from, whether a loan, reserves or taxation is yet to be determined. In addition, there is outstanding money from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the fundraising committee has resumed meeting and may contribute to the bottom line.

New director of community services, Craig Belfry, said the first draft of the 2021 budget for the Community Services Department includes a $693,232, or 58 per cent, increase over the 2020 budget of $1,194,910. The proposed net budget for 2021 is $1,888,142.

“The majority of this increase is associated with operationalizing the new recreation complex, including equipment, supplies and staffing,” he said.

CAO Trisha McKibbin said the cost of staffing the new centre represents 52 per cent of the departmental increase as of the first round of budget talks.

“The S.G. Nesbitt Arena Project was the largest project undertaken in 2020 and remains a prominent component of the 2021 budget,” she said.

Mayor Brent Devolin said there will be phasing in.

“Given COVID and a number of other constraints, we’re not going to incur a full year’s cost in some of these things,” he said.

Coun. Bob Carter pointed out the budget anticipated a full year’s expenses commencing Jan. 1, 2021 but deferred revenues so was misleading.

“If we compare back to 2019, we’re talking about an increase in the budget here of over 90 per cent so it’s a tough pill to swallow and I think we have to examine this in great detail … we have to recognize what it is that we can afford or what it is we can do to increase revenue or do some things to offset these large costs,” he said.

Overall, McKibbin said the first draft of the budget came in at a 17.5 per cent increase from 2020.

The most significant increase to the 2021 budget is wages and benefits, showing a combined cost increase of $879,407.

The CAO said, “staff recognize that this is not an acceptable increase and look forward to budget discussions in order to work with council on reaching a final budget target.”

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