This meeting all day Saturday arose out of the need identified by City Councillors to come up with a plan for Thorold’s aging buildings. This is to rein in the past practice of dealing with each in isolation, leading to a patchwork of emergency responses to problems, with no plan on what to eventually do to stop the hemorrhaging.
The discussions concerning the individual and temporary solutions probably would serve little purpose at this point, since all decisions will have to be brought up in budget meetings. Some may change before then as political pressures come to bear or as reports requested prove some ideas unworkable. In fact, so many reports were requested Saturday that, even though they voted to cancel all related reports requested at the budget meeting, I suggested to Chief Building Official Martin Wild that he may have to give up building inspections and by-law enforcement to get them done.
But the ideas coming out of the meeting seemed to reflect the realities Thorold and many other municipalities are facing at budget time each year: less money and more aging infrastructure.
It was pointed out to the Councillors that the only way they could afford to do much of the work is by issuing debentures – that is, debt financing. The cost of going that way will mean an approximate increase of 1% in property taxes to make the payments on each $1 million borrowed over a 10-year amortization. It was also noted that there is no indication that the federal or provincial governments will offer any grants in the near future for operational or even recreational projects.
That means they either will have to save it all themselves, in which case Thorold will likely be completely out of facilities long before they start work on ever-compounding problems, or they will have to do what they’ve avoided for so many years: borrow.
Some basic thoughts did arise out of the discussions however, which will likely direct the discussions going forward:
- Thorold can no longer afford to keep heritage buildings. They will likely have to be sold under strict conditions to the private sector;
- All future projects, wherever possible, are to be combined into multi-use facilities to put as many services as possible under one roof on one property. This will facilitate maintenance, save costs on land and reduce such things as parking requirements, HVAC, washrooms, utility costs, etc.;
- There is a reduced interest in local community centres and a reduced ability at the City to pay for them. As Councillor Handley said, he’d likely to see just one community centre for all of Thorold;
- Decisions on Fire Hall repairs, renovations or replacements as well as their use as community centres will have to wait until the new Fire Services Review has been completed;
- The City will look for partnerships regarding for projects such as a replacement for the “Old” Arena (the quotation marks are there because neither one is exactly new – it should probably read “Older Arena”)
A number of proposals were brought forward to deal with this subject of Thorold’s ailing properties, and it looks like this Council at least has a direction to shoot for. Much of it may not seem ideal, but it has to be better than the old way of dealing only with emergencies and hoping the Good (Provincial or Federal) Fairy will drop a sack of money on Thorold before they all reach the point of no return.
Wednesday night is the next budget meeting and we’ll start to see how many of Saturday’s initiatives make it to the 2015 budget.