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$39-million ice bill

The city is left holding the entire bill for a four-pad hockey arena in Bedford after the feds and the province bail on funding.

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After the federal and provincial governments bailed, the city is left holding the entire bill for a four-pad hockey arena in Bedford, leaving municipal officials to cobble together a makeshift financing scheme.

The $39-million arena complex on Hammond Plains Road was originally envisioned as an economic stimulus project, with a third of the cost paid by each level of government. But after local PC party members backed an alternate private arena on Duke Street, the federal government declined to fund the Hammond Plains arena through the stimulus program. Instead, the feds gave $1 million to the Duke Street project through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

On Tuesday, the NS government backed off from the four-pad, reducing its expected $13-million contribution to $2 million.

As the backers of the Duke Street facility had received a $1.5-million loan (never repaid) from the previous PC provincial government, councillor Sue Uteck noted wryly that more provincial and federal money ($2.5 million) has gone to the private facility than to the public one ($2 million).

City officials maintain they had planned for a "worst-case scenario" of receiving no federal or provincial funds for the four-pad, but that decision was never enshrined in a council vote to move forward with construction, said councillor Tim Outhit.

Regardless, by juggling the books and making some small policy changes, council was able to finance the project and still keep within its long-term policy of reducing capital debt. In essence, stimulus money received for other projects was rolled together with a one-time borrowing against expected gas tax revenues until 2015. If everything goes right, city capital debt will be reduced from about $280 million this year to about $260 million in 2014, continuing a downward trend from $350 million in 1999.

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