Mayor Report, by Wendy Robinson
Council to revisit call for engineering study of Community Centre
Wendy Robinson will be sworn in as Stewiacke's first female mayor tonight.
We have turned over a new year on the calendar, but before we move too far into 2014 I would like to address an issue that arose in 2013.
On Aug. 25, 2011, the newly formed Civic Building Committee (CBC) approved a mandate charging it to explore the idea of a new civic building. Its task was to look at several things, including: 1) the projected square footage required to house offices for all Town staff, council and the library; 2) to determine a preliminary estimate for the construction of a new building; 3) to identify potential funding partners; 4) to assess the viability of existing Town-owned properties; 5) to update council on a regular basis and, finally; 6) hold a public session(s) prior to a final report being presented to council.
Staff completed a review of the current Town Hall and it was determined the cost to renovate would be prohibitive as the building is about 84-years-old and requires more work than is fiscally responsible. In addition to the cost of renovations, there was a comparison of the previous six years’ average costs of fuel and power to maintain the Town Hall and the Public Works buildings ($11,828.32) to a new building in Clarke’s Harbour, which has the same square footage we would require ($11,200). This suggests a newer building would be more efficient and perhaps be a cost saving measure.
Preliminary estimates show that staff and council would require about 3,700 sq.ft. and the library would need a minimum of 3,000 sq.ft. (according to “Standards for Nova Scotia Regional Public Libraries”). As stated in one of my previous articles, libraries are thriving in this new age of the Internet and electronic devices. Based on this requirement, Dillon Consulting provided an estimate of $200 to $250 per sq.ft. for construction costs. This was in line with the new library recently constructed in Tatamagouche at $230.77/sq.ft.
The CBC is continuing to explore funding opportunities for the proposed building. The library statistics show 28 per cent of the people who borrowed books lived in Colchester County, 35 per cent in Stewiacke, 25 per cent from East Hants and the remaining from HRM.
Once the committee had these and other statistics gathered, it approached the County and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on Oct. 26, 2012, stating the County of Colchester will contribute the “lesser of twenty five percent (25%) of the Local Share or a maximum of Two Hundred Twenty Five Thousand ($225,000.00) to the Capital Cost of the Library portion of the building...” and contribute to operating costs over the life of the building. The Municipality of East Hants was approached, but it declined to contribute.
Other potential revenue sources are, of course, provincial and federal dollars. There’s currently a fund available for what is called “brown land”. This is land that’s currently in disuse, which is to say the land did have a specific use in the past, but is no longer being used for any purpose. The old school property should fall into this category, but not the Community Center.
There will likely be some financial incentives for going “green” and energy efficient, which we will certainly consider. Other options are being researched, but as funding programs change with governments, it isn’t possible to know exactly what funding programs will be available in the future.
Staff did a workup of possible impacts on tax rates. The spreadsheets show the current long-term debt load and projected repayment schedules. The Town will pay off some debts over the next two to three years, reducing our debt ratio.
The sheets also show projected tax revenue generation, based on past assessments and growth. The projections indicate that borrowing the capital to complete the proposed building may generate a very modest tax rate increase, if any at all.
The CBC took some time to review several new civic buildings across the province as possible models and settled on a possible modest looking, efficient example to represent the type of building it’s leaning towards; but no final decision has been made and it’s open to suggestions.
With all this information the CBC held an open house for Town residents on Jun. 11, 2013. Twenty-eight Town residents, along with eight people from outside the Town limits, signed the attendance sheets. Some left feedback for the Committee about the Community Centre as a possible location for the proposed Town Hall, with an addition for library space. There were others who supported a new construction; many were concerned about a tax rate increase.
The CBC proposed to council an engineering firm be contracted to determine if the Community Centre would be able to withstand the stress that would be brought to bear for additional office and library space. The Committee of the Whole made a motion to council for the contract to be tendered.
This is where things became muddled. During the discussion on that motion, it was brought up that if, in fact, a study showed the building could withstand the new use and we went ahead with the renovations, where would large community events be held, such as the firemen’s fundraisers, variety concerts and wedding receptions? It was also noted the $8,500 cost of the study would only tell us if the building would meet the infrastructure standards for the newly proposed purpose and not what else it would be suitable for. The vote resulted in a tie (as one member was not present) and therefore the motion was defeated.
Some people would like council to reconsider this decision and they exercised their democratic right by presenting council with a petition on Dec. 19 to make this request. As a result, council agreed to carry the motion over to the Jan. 9 Committee of the Whole meeting for further discussion. The Committee of the Whole discussed the petition and made a motion to rescind the motion that defeated the study going ahead. This motion was then recommended to council for consideration on Jan. 23. At that time a motion to rescind will be on the table and, if it passes, a new motion to pursue the study will have to be made and passed in order for the study to proceed.
At this point I would like to note the Community Center is used five nights and four mornings a week. The preschool uses the space to offer young children a chance to socialize and learn while the parents make important connections with other parents. The Bonaventure Sea Cadets and karate use the hall weekly. These are important social programs that help educate our youth and offer them a much-needed place to “hang out” rather than on the streets. We need to expand this type of programming, rather than limiting it to help our youth become engaged citizens.
In terms of finances associated with keeping the doors open as it sits, bingo pays the Town $14,400 per year, the bar has brought in $7,746 to date, $5,050 in rental fees, $8,668.55 in canteen sales and $266.25 in pop machine and bottle returns ($28,096 in total revenue). On the expense side, heating to date has cost $10,900, electricity is $7,989.01, water (which is paid to ourselves) came in at $3,985.89 and insurance costs are $3,147. There are other miscellaneous costs that add up to $48,466.03.
These are large expenses, but don’t forget the fire department is housed in the lower level and these figures include their usage. Running a fire department is expensive. Therefore, a good portion of these expenses will have to be paid even if the upper level is repurposed and there would be no generation of income at all.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate that no final decision has been made about a new civic building for the Town of Stewiacke. Council has not committed to anything other than exploring the possibilities and the needs of this Town. The Civic Building Committee is still working through the process and will hold public meetings where everyone’s opinion is welcomed and will be heard.
I ask that anyone with any question, comment or concern contact any one of the committee members or the CAO for any of the documents I referred to. We are a growing town and we need to put things in place to handle the growth and to reflect the pride we all feel in our town.
At Gordon Crowe’s talk on the history of the Town of Stewiacke he mentioned the very first council was concerned with streets, sidewalks and a school building. They didn’t have much money to work with and yet we can now look around town and see a new school, newly paved streets and progress on the sidewalks. That first council worked hard toward those goals for the benefit of the Town’s citizens and the current councillors continue to work hard for you, too.
We have come a long way and we keep marching forward — together.
Wendy Robinson has served as Mayor of Stewiacke since October 2012.