When I entered the hall at Fire Station #2 in Thorold South on Wednesday night, I initially sat on the east side. Then, however, I found out that the members of Council were to sit there, so I moved across the room, out of the line of fire.
The reason for this is that one thing you can almost always bet on when a Public Meeting is being held is that most of the people there are against whatever is being suggested. In fact, w And Wednesday night’s version concerning the possible amalgamation of the Allanburg Community Centre and Fire Station #2 in Thorold South was no different.
Staff had a presentation but never had a chance to give it, losing control of the meeting pretty much from the start to those whose opinions were too important to wait a minute longer. So speak they did, one after another, mostly against the plan as is to be expected, soon to be interspersed by comments by the Mayor and some of the five Councillors who made it (Paone, Neale, Handley, Whalen and Ugulini), even though Council isn’t usually to speak at Public Meetings except to ask for clarification.
There were plenty of arguments for not making the move for the amalgamation, such as the old stand-by “You don’t spend any money on [enter the name of your group]”. There were some good reasons, however, as pointed out by Station #2 Volunteer District Chief, Kelly Saunders, who pointed out that to have kids playing or drunks staggering around the station in case of a fire call might be dangerous.
Then there’s why the Allanburg Community Centre had to be closed. The number one reason is the $200,000 price tag for repairs to the centre, a hefty argument if you don’t want to pay another 2% in taxes to cover it. The idea was to sell the Allanburg Community Centre and then use the money to make the necessary improvements to the Fire Station to make it into a community centre for both communities. Another reason for closure is that the centre is underutilized.
A number of reasons and excuses were given for why the centre is underutilized. One gentleman said he couldn’t figure out how to contact the centre. Some complained about the plentiful and sometimes ridiculous City rules and requirements that tend to stifle any kind of activity (they do, believe me).
The anti-change group countered that the hall in the Fire Station is only half the floor size, has no storage and, even with the City’s planned expansion of the parking lot, not nearly enough parking. One neighbour of the Community Centre made an interesting point in that if the City closes the centre, will it sit there like the old Township Hall did, infested with various vermin? No answer was offered.
But soon this meeting, barely controlled from the start soon had no control whatsoever. More than one Councillor explained how difficult is for Council with no industrial tax base and all those provincial laws and regulations to follow. As could have been expected, this didn’t elicit any sympathy. Then a loud verbal battle ensued between the Council table and a couple of the citizens in attendance.
So what came out of all this noise and confusion? Not much. The Mayor said they’d reconsider, not a difficult promise since no decision had been made – this plan being floated at this meeting for discussion. And discussion about the ability of citizens to volunteer or programme in the light of insurance requirements came to naught as there is no solution as long as the City owns it.
Can Council afford to fix the Allanburg Community Centre? Not unless folks will be happy with a property tax rise above what it will go up anyways this year to cover the work there and everywhere else that will then demand that their problem be tended to immmediately. And what about the premise for the meeting: will combining the two facilities work? Probably not because, space, storage and parking requirements aside, there are those pesky safety aspects.
The folks at the meeting demanded options and it looks like Council might be going back to the drawing board. But what are the options? Repair the Allanburg Community Centre, build a new community centre from scratch or go ahead with the combination plan. Then there’s the answer that nobody wants: tear it down, keep the money and do without a community centre.
But the best option might be to sell the building to the supporters for a buck or two, as they did with the Beaverdams Church. The City won’t have to pay for repairs, the new owners can make their own insurance arrangements, they can programme anything they like, they’ll have total control over fundraising and the funds raised, and they can volunteer to do the repairs to their hearts’ content.
Would it work? Who knows, but at least then they will have only themselves to blame if it doesn’t work.