Massive cost over-runs force City Centre project off table as Pickering begins budget process

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Published February 8, 2023 at 10:27 am

With significant revenue shortfalls due to a three-year pandemic and rapidly escalating costs in almost everything, it’s going to be a painful process for the City of Pickering to come up with a budget for 2023 that keeps everyone happy.

Which makes it a good thing that the $127.3 million deferred to this year to help pay for what is in hindsight the hopelessly ambitious City Centre Project has been taken off the table.

The project, which was to include a performing arts centre, new central library and a senior/youth centre, plus a hotel and condos, was approved prior to the pandemic with much of the funding expected to come from the (at the time) unbuilt Pickering Casino Resort.

But the casino and its host site revenue stream was delayed, the pandemic happened and the $127.3 million installment payment was deferred to 2021 and then 2022 and finally this year, when Council shelved the project entirely until costs become clearer.

Pickering Councillor Maurice Brenner said rising costs on the project have already added another $130 million to a project originally budgeted at $207 million.

“That would bankrupt the city,” he said.

The project was to be built on lands owned by the City on the south side of The Esplanade and lands owned by Pickering Town Centre owners Wakefield Properties on the east side of the mall. One possibility moving forward, Brenner suggested, would be to put aside the performing arts centre for the time being and build the rest of the project on the city-owned lands.

The City considered selling its share in Elexicon Energy in 2021 to pay for the development and still supports the “vision” of the City Centre Project, he added.

As to the budget, Pickering taxpayers will get their say in how the elected officials spend their money over the next month during the public consultation phase of the 2023 budget process.

Last year’s capital budget was $46.6 million with more than a quarter of that (27.5 per cent) funded through a development charges reserve fund. With development charges being severely impacted due to recent controversial provincial legislation, some programs and even some services may have to be sacrificed this year.

“Whether you’re running a household, a business, or a government administration, we’re all tasked with managing our financial priorities while facing pressures from inflation and lasting impacts of the pandemic,” said Mayor Kevin Ashe. “It is important that we make Pickering’s budget information and process accessible, highlight opportunities for participation, and encourage residents to have their say, to ultimately support Council’s deliberations and determination of the 2023 municipal budget.”

Residents can have their say on the service, program, and infrastructure needs that are most important to them by completing a survey (deadline is March 10) or by attending or registering to address council at a special budget meeting April 13 or the final meeting April 24 when the 2023 budget is adopted.

Visit LetsTalkPickering/Budget to get involved.

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