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City Councillor proposing arena money be put into Green Line LRT

Last Updated Nov 28, 2019 at 6:33 am MST

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – As budget discussions drag on at Calgary city hall, one councillor wants to rethink the Flames arena deal.

Ward 8’s Evan Woolley will present a motion Thursday asking city council colleagues to reconsider the plan to provide over $270 million dollars in public money for a replacement to the Saddledome.

Woolley says the money should be redirected to other sources, such as the Green Line LRT and affordable housing.

“We have invested already half a billion dollars in (the Green Line), this project is too big to fail, and at this time I think that this isn’t an appropriate use of these resources,” Woolley told reporters gathered outside the Council Chambers on Wednesday afternoon.

Woolley said a lot has changed since council voted 11-4 in July to approve a new deal for an arena in Calgary.

“We had a provincial budget come out, and that provincial budget took what was supposed to be $500 million for the Green Line funding in the next four years, and reduced that to $75 million. That provincial budget decreased police funding by 33 per cent,” said Woolley.

WATCH: Council votes yes on a new arena 

The request comes right in the middle of budget discussions at city hall, with councillors grappling between raising property taxes by either 1.5 or three per cent or cutting numerous public services to eliminate the need for an increase.

In reference to the police funding, the province announced in the budget they will take a greater portion of fine revenue over the next four years — with that number equivalent to a third of provincial grants for the police.

However, provincial funding only makes up a small portion of the police budget in Calgary.

Woolley also believes the money can help support a downtown police station in Victoria Park, which Chief Constable Mark Neufeld said would not be sustainable unless they had the proper funding to staff it.

In a series of tweets, Woolley said he doesn’t want children to grow up in a city that prioritizes subsidies for an NHL team but ignores people who can’t afford a place to live or get around the city.

Since this is a vote for reconsideration of an already approved agreement, a simple majority is not enough for this motion to pass, and Woolley needs the support of nine colleagues.

Ward 11 Councillor Jeromy Farkas, who along with Woolley, George Chahal and Druh Farrell, also voted against the July deal, will support the motion.

“I don’t think it was the best deal at the time, and I think that it should’ve been something that we held up on,” Farkas said. “A vote to spend this money on the arena is a vote not to spend money on other things.”

Ward 1 Councillor Ward Sutherland is staunchly against the idea and said Woolley is being foolish.

“There’s a lot of spinning going on here,” said Sutherland. “It doesn’t affect the budget at all; it’s done through cash that we get paid back. The provincial budget does not affect this at all. Reconsidering it is actually irresponsible, and there’s potential consequences.”

The deal agreed on by council has not been officially signed off on yet, though, but Sutherland said there is still a risk of legal ramifications.

He said this deal, in conjunction with upgrades to the BMO Centre and Stampede Park, will contribute over $1 billion to Calgary’s economy every year once complete.

“It is a fantastic investment,” said Sutherland.

The deal would see the City of Calgary and the Flames split the $550 million cost, with the public investment being paid back with interest.

But in these times of extreme budget constraints, Woolley doesn’t see the value himself.

“Calgarians have told us that housing and transit are incredibly important to them,” said Woolley. “I think the Flames will appreciate the financial position we find ourselves in, and we need to come to the table to discuss a different way to fund this arena.”

Calgary Flames President and CEO Ken King said the team has no comment at this time.