The first City Council meeting of the year started with one of the most controversial topics in Timmins.

The first presentation of the night came from former Mayor Steve Black, who pitched Stars and Thunder 2019.

Black outlined the pros and cons for having Stars and Thunder run for another year, with the main focus being on funding coming from Ron Sakamoto’s company, Gold and Gold Productions.

According to Black, the event would be taken on and funded by Gold and Gold, but in order for the festival to continue, the city would need to contribute $300,000 as an event sponsor. As written in Black’s presentation, “the $300,000 ask for 2019 is required to help transition the event into a successful privately operated event.” Black assured council that city staff would not be involved with any planning or the execution of the event, and the $300,000 would be the only cash requirement with no risk.

Members of council were apprehensive about such a size-able sum going towards an event that has been so unpopular in the past. While some members supported the continuation of Stars and Thunder as a community event that attracts tourists, others expressed the opinions they’ve heard from the public that this money could be used for other things like infrastructure repair.

Black said the funds being asked for from the city would be reduced each year until the festival becomes completely self-sufficient, hopefully by 2022. He also said the funds from the city could come from the new Municipal Hotel Accommodation Tax, which increases tax rates for hotel guests and is estimated to bring in $1 million in revenue. If taken from that pot, Black argued that no funds would have to come from taxpayer’s pockets.

Mayor George Pirie raised some concerns about the presumptive use of the revenue from the Hotel Accommodation Tax before council has had a chance to discuss where else the funds could be distributed. Council has yet to decide if they will even implement the Hotel Accommodation Tax, and as of right now, it is not being implemented and the city does not have access to the revenue the new tax would bring.

Councillor Whissell also brought up the point that with the renovations happening at Hollinger Park, including new soil and grass, the park likely won’t be ready for a crowd of 10,000 people by the summer. He said the crowd would likely destroy any work being done to improve the grounds, and the park would possibly need to be renovated again as a result.

Black agreed that the condition of Hollinger Park is the most pressing concern for whether this event can go forward. He said if council says no to the request because of the condition of Hollinger, he will pitch for Stars and Thunder again for 2020. If it’s a no, regardless of the park being ready, Black said he won’t pitch again next year.

Some Councillors expressed concern with the amount of money that would more or less be gifted to the event if they approved Black’s request. Councillor Murray suggested Black and Sakamoto look at ways of getting funding without asking for it from the city. She suggested the city provide support in other areas besides funding, adding that as the first request of the year, it would set a bad precedent to gift the money to Stars and Thunder without looking at other funding options.

The lively debate about Stars and Thunder 2019 ended with a promise to make a decision by the February 12th council meeting. The presentation ended with most Councillors agreeing that without a report on whether Hollinger Park will be ready in time, they cannot make a firm decision. They also need to discuss whether they will implement the Hotel Tax and use the revenue from that to fund the city’s sponsorship of $300,000.

Black agrees that the condition of Hollinger Park is the main concern. He said he and Sakamoto need a firm “yes” or “no” by March so headliners can be booked and planning can begin.

Filed under: Local News