A couple of your editorials the last few weeks are very disturbing to a majority of taxpayers in the Municipality.
First you defended the bloated cost of the new library project by saying, “The Community supports the plan so I accept it.” I do not believe the Community accepts this particular project. As per the SDR survey there are 19 communities in the Municipality and I believe only one community (the town) is for this project and not everyone in town is on board with spending close to $5.5 million on a non-core infrastructure asset.
It took us rural folk four years of badgering our council to get a pothole-filled main road in Sydenham (Bayshore-Leith to Concession 23) repaved. This cost about $700,000. In a matter of weeks our council, with the support of one community in our municipality, decided to spend $1.5 million on the Foodland building without knowing the full costs and not offering a full business plan.
As of Oct 16/17, staff were to get an appraisal and hopefully the final costs of the new structure at the downtown site. Initial estimates were about $4.4 million and the total estimate was higher than any alternative looked at to date.
Did they get an AACI appraisal? Was all the due diligence done? It was not until October 30 when staff came back to council and said that the project was going to cost an extra million dollars. No problem, our council said! It would not have mattered anyway if our council would have changed their support for the project as on October 20 staff members had already committed our municipality to purchase the land and building. This was ten days before the October 30 council meeting. Furthermore no one has even presented the public with a business plan about what it will cost to run this much larger library. We currently spend about $520K/year (not including the Owen Sound charge for the west end of the municipality) for one library. Just to put this in perspective, West Grey and Grey Highlands each have three wi-fi equipped libraries and spend $339K and $406K annually. What will the annual costs be with this expanded facility? Nobody knows and nobody seems to care because the minority of one has decided and the other 18 communities will pay for it!
Also along the way they also threw in the idea of converting the old library into new Council chambers. No cost estimates provided but rest assured another $2-3 million for that. No public meetings allowing all taxpayers to voice their opinions on an undertaking of a $7.5-8.5 million “soft infrastructure” program were held. Did anyone even explore maybe purchasing one of the closed or soon to be closed schools which already have library space in them? These buildings would accommodate a library and a new council chamber at a cost much lower than the $8.5 million that we are going to be spending with this existing course. What was the rush about? We had until 2019 to be compliant with the existing library!
Mr. Vance, maybe you can accept this secretive and financial lacking decision-making process but as a taxpayer I along with many others do not.
Secondly, you had an editorial where you basically said if anyone was not for the hiring of more staff “they were losing their minds” or “going off half-cocked”. You defended the expansion of staff because “how else do we get our roads fixed”, and then you went on to say it was a great idea as Meaford needs “more high-paying jobs”. Honestly, Mr. Vance, your paper is becoming an arm of the current administration, not an independent purveyor of news and sober thought.
This current proposed budget has about 76 capital projects to be undertaken. Fifteen are in the water and waste department. That leaves about 61 projects in the taxpayer budget. Of these there are five pieces of equipment to be purchased (even though no business cases were presented) and 15 projects on roads and bridges. The balance are mainly soft core infrastructure projects.
Why are so many soft core infrastructure projects being proposed when history has shown that not all are really necessary and are prone to be cancelled or postponed? Also municipal staff do not work on the rebuilding of roads or bridges as most of the projects are contracted out to professional contractors. Mr. Chapman, our Treasurer, has told me in the past that our staff cannot rebuild a road or rebuild a bridge because we do not have the right equipment for these tasks (no municipality has), so how does hiring two project managers help fix these core structures. Even if they could assist, the road and bridge component is small vs the huge number of other projects. The hiring of two project managers will provide little assistance on the core infrastructure programs. Reduce the number of 'soft infrastructure' projects, some of which are totally unnecessary and really excessive spending (i.e. $55,000 for gateway signs,$190,000 on Parks and Trail expenditures etc. - really!) and there is no need for additional staff.
Additional staff recruitment for the Planning Department, Meaford Hall, etc., are not needed as well. Our planning department with inspection spends almost 50 percent more than Grey Highlands and West Grey and both municipalities have the same level of new growth at a little more than $30 million a year. If these municipalities can handle the same level of activity spending less we should be able to do this as well. If our staff cannot figure this out maybe a councillor can make a few phone calls to the more efficient municipalities and find out how they are doing 'more with less'. As far as the Meaford Hall hire it is unnecessary as well. Surely our new revamped Communication department can handle a few more promotional duties for the Hall. Why run up more losses?
Your second argument for the hiring is the need for more high-paying jobs in Meaford. This is rubbish as the salaries of the hired people by our municipality come from increased taxes from the approximately 5,600 households and businesses which pay property tax in the municipality. What a few people gain from the salaries reduces the income of the 5,600 taxpayers thus there is zero benefit to the municipality.
No, Mr. Vance, Meaford taxpayers are not losing their minds and going off half-cocked. I believe those rather derogatory descriptions of taxpayers who are concerned about the wise use of limited tax dollars are uncalled for and I personally think you should look in a mirror. Your support for a council and administration that has demonstrated little ability to control costs and reduce taxes is more indicative of the above attributes than taxpayers who question dubious administration decisions.
Barry Vallier, Annan
I've made no secret that I am opposed to the plan to put a new library in the former Foodland location (I've previously written, “It's no secret that I'm not a full supporter of the plan to plunk the new library down where a grocery store used to be, but as I've written previously, the community supports the plan, and I've accepted it.”), but given the sizeable support I've seen in the community combined with numerous email messages I've seen, the community seems to not care about the cost of this project. I had hoped to see more opposition to the plan, but resigned myself to the fact that I must be out of step with the community, and have reluctantly accepted the plan.
As for the capital project manager positions for which council has given approval – it's clear to me that staff struggles to manage these projects – the recent Bakeshop Bridge rehabilitation project wound up being two and a half months past its projected completion date – perhaps if we had some staff with the proper skill set we wouldn't have seen such a delay. We've gone from funding virtually zero capital projects just a few years ago to 77 projects next year valued at some $10 million, with no appropriately trained staff to properly manage the projects. While I value your views on the topic, as I wrote in my November 16 editorial “I fully understand and appreciate the concerns of the budget hawks in this community who pay close attention to what this municipality spends, and the size of the municipal payroll. And I'm thankful that there are folks in the community that keep tabs on those sorts of things, but we can't simply balk at every hire proposed by the municipality, as some of the positions at any municipality are crucial, and I think council was wise at their November 13 draft budget question and answer session to get behind a proposed budget enhancement that will see two capital project managers hired.”