This Tuesday, April 18th between 9 a.m and 7 p.m., Hudson residents who oppose Bylaw 687 will have the opportunity to sign a register at town hall. Bylaw 687 supposedly authorizes the town to borrow up to $555,000 for renovations and modifications to the Community Centre at minimal cost to the town.
I wish someone would explain how this is supposed to work.
At April’s council meeting residents were told the loan was a necessary first step in getting a grant from the federal government’s Canada 150 infrastructure program. The loan would cover the cost of a new roof, windows, flooring and other renovations. It would also allow the replacement of the current kitchen, which does not conform to workplace health and safety norms or commercial-kitchen standards.
According to what District 2 councillor Barbara Robinson told us, the town had to go ahead with the renovations, then submit the bills to get the grant money. From the way Robinson talked, the town had already gotten pre-approval from Canada 150, much like you and I would get pre-approved for a line of credit before we call the contractor.
To get a better idea of what she was talking about, I spent a couple of hours last Thursday visiting the Community Centre to see for myself what the town is proposing to upgrade.
The roof of the Community Centre itself is fine. It’s a stainless-steel batten roof, good for 50 years or more. The problem is the Legion and curling club roofs. Both are in bad shape. The curling club roof vents leaked onto the ice during that heavy downpour two weeks ago. The Legion is the town’s tenant, having signed over the property for a dollar and a promise of perpetual maintenance when the Community Centre was built in the ‘90s.
In other words, the town, as the Legion’s landlord, has an obligation to repair the Legion’s roofs and kitchen floor.
Like any well-used twentysomething public structure, the Community Centre needs a thorough reno and systems upgrade, with new windows, door locks, electrical overhaul and flooring. As for the Community Centre kitchen, I’ve been told it would fail a provincial health inspection. I’m not an expert but I’ve been told the town knew of this the last time it bought appliances, when Mike Elliott was mayor.
When Robinson told us at the April council meeting the deal would allow the town to go 50-50 with the feds, I believed her. I didn’t question the $134,000 stainless steel batten roof, the new windows and flooring or the updated kitchen. Like most of us, I use the Community Centre. I know how much traffic it gets and the need to bring the systems up to date.
But then the town posted the following on the municipal website that doesn’t jibe with what I understand about how municipal grants work.
“First and foremost, we want to reaffirm that the acceptance of our project in the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program (PIC150) is an absolute prerequisite to go forward with the loan bylaw 687-2017 as stated in the motion and in section 5 of the bylaw. If the Town does not receive the grant, the loan bylaw will be cancelled.
“As part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations, Canada Economic Development (CED) has established a program to assist municipalities in rehabilitating and upgrading existing community infrastructures, including expansion. The announcement of this program has come at the right time for the Town of Hudson, given the repairs required at the community centre. The grant is for 50% of the eligible costs, up to $250,000. However, this program, like all programs, sets out certain conditions, including the requirement that all the works be completed by December 31, 2017. This grant is independent from any other provided by the MAMOT and is not conditional on the acceptance of the intervention plan.”
That got me to wondering. Has Canada 150, or any other federal or provincial government body, approved the town’s funding request? Under which program was it applied? When was the request submitted? Is there a letter acknowledging receipt of the town’s request?
Yes or no?
Then, last week, residents discovered a pamphlet in their mailboxes. Although it carried the Town of Hudson logo, it urged residents to sign the register to stop the town from spending “over half a million dollars for unspecified expenses.” Concerned citizens were urged to contact Olympic resident Veronique Fischer, a lawyer who ran against Robinson in the last election.
The pamphlet’s appearance triggered an angry Facebook debate about the morality of using the town’s logo. It also prompted the administration to release a statement denying any connection with the pamphlet and calling the author’s conclusion “misleading and inaccurate.” It directed residents to the town’s website and Facebook page as well as to the Local Journal, the same paper two councillors recently criticized for its inaccuracy.
Fischer hasn’t let up on her attack, questioning whether the town filed a funding request in time for the deadline. Fischer infers the promise of the Canada 150 grant is a deliberate smokescreen to cover the adoption of an omnibus loan bylaw to cover a shopping list of unfunded projects, ranging from new boat docks at Jack Layton Park to that notorious eco-trolley to convey fascinated visitors to the town’s many tourist destinations.
Hudsonites may not remember this, but we’ve been here before. When Mike Elliott’s council adopted a $7.2 million loan bylaw to residents for the new firehall and Public Works upgrade, residents were assured the town would be eligible for provincial subsidies. As it later turned out, it wasn’t eligible because the grant approval process had not been initiated before the town began the process of approving a loan bylaw. Hudson taxpayers ate the entire $5M-plus cost of the project, part of the 11 cents per $100 on our tax bills.
I’ll be voting against Bylaw 687 at Tuesday’s register. Not because I oppose spending money to keep up the Community Centre, but because we can’t get a straight answer from this council about whether it has filed for which grants in timely fashion. Too bad. The Community Centre needs a facelift.
This has been updated to clarify the reason why the town was ineligible for subsidies for the firehall.