Thursday, June 13, 2024

If The Community is Willing to Spend the Extra Money, How Can Council Say No?

Stephen Vance, Editor

When you write and publish for public consumption opinions on local issues, you do so knowing that you’ll never have the agreement of all, and from time to time you will annoy many. So I write the following knowing that my view on the library location issue is contrary to the apparent will of the residents of Meaford and that’s not a necessarily a bad thing, because I’m a firm believer in the concept of majority rule, and if the community wants a new library located in the former Foodland building, then I support that, even if I don’t agree. We should take some time to consider some realities however.

As I have written before, the former Foodland grocery store location at 11 Sykes Street North is certainly a prime location. The intersection of Sykes and Trowbridge Streets is somewhat of a gateway to the downtown core, and the property that formerly housed a grocery store is visible and easily accessible. While it seems a shame to forever give up the potential for property tax revenue should a business ever acquire the property (not to mention badly needed jobs), the community at large as well as our members of council don’t seem to see that as much of a concern, so I’m willing to play along.

But let’s be clear, in a community that for the entirety of the 12 years I’ve lived here has expressed anger and frustration at much smaller expenditures, and in a community in which ratepayers already complain that our property taxes are too high, I find somewhat surprising the groundswell of support for a library project that will cost $1.1 million more than the next best option, but again, if that’s what the community wants, then that’s what the community wants.

Granted, Meaford’s treasurer has stated that the municipally-owned building at 390 Sykes Street, also a candidate for the new library, would be sold for some $700,000, which would close the gap between the Foodland building proposal and the next best proposal to ‘just’ $400,000, but for a community that has been seemingly risk-averse after feeling the pinch of hefty tax increases over a four-year period to correct financial issues of years past, it seems like somewhat of a gamble to hinge the financing of such a major project on the sale of a commercial property in a community that has had difficulty attracting commercial investment to begin with (case in point – the Foodland building has stood empty for more than a year now, so clearly finding a buyer for a prime commercial property in a small town like Meaford isn’t easy).

I’ll note with just a hint of irony that the $400,000 more that it would cost to establish a library in the former Foodland building when compared to the 390 Sykes Street option is precisely the amount that has been suggested would be needed to properly rehabilitate a two-kilometre section of Story Book Park Road that was recently pulverized and returned to gravel, annoying two dozen property owners. In a community that has been begging for a greater focus on the rehabilitation of our roads and bridges, I question the wisdom of spending an extra $400,000 ($1.1 million should the municipality have difficulty unloading 390 Sykes Street) to build a new library.

Again I will say that I completely understand the attraction of the former Foodland location for a new library, but I have fears about the cost and how it will be funded.

Municipal staff have done an outstanding job over the past few years examining a wide range of options for the badly needed construction of a new library. Our councillors have also done an outstanding job of encouraging an exhaustive study of all potential locations, and they’ve resisted the urge to jump the gun before that exhaustive study was completed; now here we are with essentially two best options to consider.

We could find a new home for the OPP detachment and terminate the lease with the second current tenant of the municipally-owned 390 Sykes Street building and build a new library at a cost of roughly $3.3 million – the major drawback is that the building is 1.2 kilometres away from the current library building, which is a little too far out of the way for the likes of many. Or we could spend $4.4 million to purchase the former Foodland property and build the new library a stone’s throw from the existing library. If we accept the best case scenario, and the municipality is able to sell the 390 Sykes Street building in a reasonable time-frame, then the former Foodland location would cost ‘just’ $400,000 more.

If the community is willing to take that risk, and if they are willing to spend all that extra money, then I can’t see how council could not move forward with the former Foodland location – but as they go through the process to further explore this option, I’d suggest they might want to find a way to consult the community in an extensive way. Councillors have been very clear about the groundswell of support they’ve heard from residents about the former Foodland property, but it would only be responsible to ensure that the public understands and accepts the significantly increased cost for doing so.

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