If my 'in-box' over the week leading up to council's July 22 meeting is any indication, our members of council were no doubt bombarded with email messages and phone calls from residents on one side of the library issue or the other, likely making a tough decision even tougher.
A week ago members of council absorbed the shock of a drastically increased cost for the construction of the new library after the bids came in, and council was told that the project, which was to have cost $5.5 million, would now cost $7.1 million.
At that meeting on July 15, a number of councillors expressed frustration, and some flat out said that they couldn't support the increased cost. But after a week of reflection, studying the reports, and fielding countless messages from ratepayers, when council arrived in the chamber on July 22, they were all fully behind the project and ready to approve the award of tender, which will allow construction to begin.
As I wrote last week, the unexpected increase in cost posed a challenge to council, and I think they met that challenge well.
One thing that small town municipal councillors (and reporters) quickly learn is that the community is filled with an incredible number of 'experts'. No matter what the topic, no matter the issue, there are sure to be a large number of 'experts' who are more than willing to share their 'expertise' with council and reporters. These 'experts' have very strong opinions, and they often have some not very nice things to say about people who disagree with them. Though they are 'experts', you rarely if ever see them attend a council meeting but they sure know how council should work.
So I agree with Councillor Steve Bartley, who a week ago looked very much on the fence about what to do with the library issue given the new estimated cost, when he called out those 'experts' at council on Monday.
“I find that though I do respect everybody's opinion, and I do appreciate the emails, I find it very hard for somebody to make a decision on an 11 page report, where we have sat through five years of deliberations around this table on the same subject. They say 'you should check out other buildings', we've done that, we've checked out ten other buildings, we've had prices on them,” Bartley said on Monday.
As for those who point out that Ontario's Municipal Act only requires Meaford to provide library services, not an actual library building, suggesting instead that Meafordites visit the libraries in Owen Sound or Thornbury, Bartley was blunt: “Send 4,000 people to Owen Sound'? I will not answer those emails,” Bartley told council.
I'm with Councillor Bartley on that as I too will not dignify such silliness with a response. The Municipal Act doesn't require Meaford to have an arena, but we have one. I don't use it, I don't care to use it, I don't know what it cost to build, and I don't know what it will cost when it comes time to replace, but I would fight hard to save it if there was talk of shutting it down because Meaford residents could “easily go to nearby communities and use their arenas instead”.
Anyone who says that Meaford doesn't need a new library has either never been inside the current library, or they are simply blind to facts. Those who suggest that we could close the library and everyone could go to Owen Sound, has never seen the large number of people who walk or bike to the library. They've never seen moms with babies in strollers and toddlers following along arriving at the library after walking there, not driving. They've never noticed that not everyone who uses the library has a vehicle, so how is sending everyone to Owen Sound a realistic solution? Again, it is just pure silliness from these 'experts'.
While the council chamber erupted in cheers and applause after council's unanimous approval of the award of tender on Monday, there will be some who still don't agree, and that's okay, that is life. But I have had a front row seat watching this issue unfold over the past decade, and like our councillors, I have sat through every meeting, absorbed every report, I have listened to every council discussion and every staff presentation, and I have written articles to inform my community, and editorials to offer my opinions, and yet the local 'experts', most of whom have done little more than read one report (and to be honest most haven't even done that, and all they know is what they heard in the coffee shop), yet they would have you believe that all seven members of council, and this scribe are wrong.
It isn't easy to get seven people to agree on anything, and major costly issues like this make it even less likely to see seven individuals all come to the same conclusion, but the vote on Monday was unanimous, and given all that I have seen and heard over the past decade, in spite of my displeasure regarding the location itself (I will never agree that it is a wise move) I too agree with council (compromise is essential to an effective democracy).
Based on more than ten years of meetings, reports, and exploring every option imaginable, including hiring engineers and architects to draw up plans for a number of potential library solutions and locations, and based on a decade of false starts and stumbles, the plan that council has approved, even with the unexpected spike in cost, is the best plan that has come along, and going back to the drawing board will only end up costing more.
As I wrote in our print paper last week, and I ask again to those who oppose the cost for building a new library – what did the current library cost to build? You don't know, I don't know, and frankly, nobody knows or cares, and in 40 years the new library will still be serving the community and nobody in 2059 will care what it cost, and they won't care about the agonizing over $5.5 million or $7.1 million, because it truly won't matter.