What would $9 Million Buy Our Town?

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Back a few years ago, the 2010-14 council led by Mayor Cooper approved building for the community several important structures and buying for public ownership several properties, any of which — indeed, several of which — could have been built for less than the $9 million cost we taxpayers are burdened with paying for the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) this term.

For example, the new firehall we commissioned in 2012 cost $4.75 million. For roughly twice that amount, you know what you got from this council? Right: a report. And not just any report: we got a digital report, that, despite being full of vague, generic, and irrelevant recommendations, we’re told is as important as providing clean drinking water. Excuse me while I do a facepalm over that claim.

When we built the firehall, we also upgraded the OPP station — which the town owns — to meet the province’s operational standards. That cost another $800,000. A new firehall and a renovated police station: $5.55 million. Not even close to $9 million, and they’re still standing, still in use, still publicly owned. This term, you got a digital report.

For $5 million, the 2010-14 council upgraded and covered our swimming pool for year-round use, and added a warm-water therapy pool to it for our seniors, had the change rooms rebuilt, added a viewing area, seating, competition diving boards, upgraded HVAC and water systems, and paved the parking lot. That’s $4 million less than this council’s important-as-clean-drinking-water digital report.

And then for $8.5 million, we commissioned and built a new, publicly-owned hockey and skating arena and rink, with dressing rooms, a canteen, benches for spectators, and meeting rooms, all so local teams and clubs didn’t have to drive out of town to practice, and the community had a year-round space to skate and play.  The builder even threw in $500,000 of extras for free. Still cost us less than the $9 million digital, important-as-clean-drinking-water report and it’s there today for the whole town to use.

And we did both of these publicly-owned recreational facilities without costing taxpayers a penny. Two top-rated, environmentally-designed, publicly-owned recreational facilities for about $13 million that will be providing the whole community with service and enjoyment for many more decades. Compare these to the as-important-as-clean-drinking-water digital report you got this term that will be with us for… maybe a couple of months? If that.

In 2013, we also bought Fisher Field for about $500,000, which was then privately owned, securing the town’s soccer pitches for the community, and making future upgrades viable because the public now owned the land. And we also upgraded and rebuilt two public tennis courts to meet community demand, and built a new public park and playground called J.J. Cooper Park.

You got a report this term. A digital one at that.
More Dilbert

More than a decade ago, the town built a new, three-storey library and municipal offices, and municipal parking lot at the corner of St. Marie and Simcoe Streets. The cost was $11 million. This term our council could have built a publicly-owned, community arts centre and theatre of that same footprint size for around $9 million (likely even a two-storey structure with an art gallery). But, no, this term we got an as-important-as-clean-drinking-water digital report.

In 2013, our council purchased a five-acre property on the Tenth Line for a much-needed Works Department and Rec Department expansion and storage space. That cost us $2.25 million. It had a building with a state-of-the-art, 18,000 sq. ft. repair and maintenance bay, too — a real benefit when servicing town vehicles. Plus it had internal storage and office space in an almost-new, modern building. It had a large stormwater management pond that could be used for winter snow hauled from our downtown, to ensure salt and other debris doesn’t drain into environmentally-sensitive areas.

But the best part: we purchased it at significantly less than the appraised value, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars while getting a great deal and a real benefit to town operations (appraisals, by the way, were done by independent professionals). And we were prescient: by 2018, consultants were telling council the town needed that and more space to expand municipal operations, including that space on the Tenth Line. We bought a property for municipal use; this council bought a report.

Of course, you’re going to tell me, “But Ian, we don’t need a new arena, or a new swimming pool, a new Works department office, new soccer pitches, a new firehall, or a new library, because better, more community-minded councils before this one already built them for us!”

And you’d be correct. Previous councils that cared about their responsibilities to the community worked diligently to meet its needs. In our 2010-14 council we built several publicly-owned facilities, and purchased property for public use. That was followed (2014-18) by a council that secretly and deceptively sold our electricity utility and airport without even a pretense of public consultation. And commissioned the SVJI knowing it would cost millions of dollars more than they publicly let on.

But what if they or our current council had spent the money on, say, restoring and renovating the terminals? That’s a $10 million price tag that we taxpayers will have to shoulder if we want to retain it. But instead of doing the much-needed work (the cost goes up by $500,000 for every year it is neglected), this council bought a report. A digital report at that. And obviously more important to this council than restoring the terminals.

Taxpayers paid $9 million for our mayor’s judicial inquiry report instead of, say, building a community arts centre. Or upgrading our waterfront to attract boaters and recreational events. Or fixing our decaying streets and our crumbling sidewalks. Or adding a much-needed traffic light at Third and High Streets. Or repairing the decaying terminals. Or building a skating trail at Harbourview Park. Or building new municipal offices to meet the demands of the ever-accelerating staff size for more office space and parking.

Our current council could have built any number of publicly-owned facilities for the betterment of Collingwood.

But instead of building new or upgrading existing town facilities, buying land for public use, or doing anything for the public good, they bought us a report. A digital, important-as-clean-drinking-water report for what was arguably a personal vendetta against a council that refused to give the YMCA a $35 million handout in 2012.

Of course, not every council can accomplish great things. Some can barely accomplish meetings, and others… well, they provide voters with reasons to despair. Some councils build facilities for the community, purchase land for residents to play on for generations to come. Others secretly sell public assets without public consultation and hold dozens of closed-door meetings to hide their activities from public scrutiny. And others buy $9 million digital reports as their legacy.

More Dilbert 

More than $8 million of your money was already spent as of Dec. 2018, and it doesn’t include staff costs, or legal and other related costs to prepare for the SVJI. But wait… that’s not all: in a few months we’re going to get a $700,000 report about the report. So this council’s legacy will be two reports, not just one! *

Collingwood deserves better.
~~~~~
* To be fair, they have one other legacy: chopping down more than 50, healthy, mature, beautiful trees along Hurontario Street to build a sidewalk so a councillor who lives nearby won’t have to cross the street to use the existing sidewalk on the other side. Clearly our council wasn’t elected for being environmentally-conscious or considerate.

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