March 26, 2014

Council rejects bid for new Centre 2000 deal

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron’s attempt to have the Centre 2000 agreement changed to a leasing deal was defeated by Town Council at its March 18 meeting.

Maieron has been a critic of the agreement for many years, saying the Town is a victim in “an unfair situation”, and that he has “a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers” to correct the Town’s spending on Centre 2000.

Others on council argued that problems can be worked out with the Upper Grand District School Board, within the current shared-use model.

Councillor John Brennan chaired that section of the meeting while Maieron made his presentation. When the question was called, Councillors Tocher, Callaghan and Wintersinger were opposed, with Maieron in favour and Brennan abstaining. The chair normally only votes in the event of a tie.

Brennan said he was open to either a shared-use or leasing arrangement, as long as service is maintained to residents.

The mayor said invoices from the Town totalling over $20,000 over several years remain unpaid, and he urged that these be resolved by June.

School Trustee Kathryn Cooper, who sits on the Centre 2000 board, was surprised at the mayor’s notice of motion.

“It’s disappointing, since we are well on our way to resolving these issues,” she said prior to the meeting.

She acknowledged that there are unpaid invoices from the Town, and she has recommended that the school board pay them. But she said there are also invoices from the school board that the Town has not paid.

Cooper said while it is costly, for example, for the Town to install a $40,000 sewage meter, it is “an investment in only paying for what they use”.

“A lease model makes sense to me,” said Maieron, claiming the existing deal is too complex.
 He is suggesting that each party own and maintain certain sections, and lease them to the other party as needed for an agreed fee.

He is particularly concerned about costs of the Shamrock Room, which was intended as the cafeteria in the original plan. He says the town is paying all of the heat, electrical, water and sewage costs for the room and the commercial kitchen, but is “stuck with” the less desirable rental hours.

Maieron is also concerned that the Town borrowed over $2 million for the Centre 2000 project. The bulk of it was for the theatre, he said, but while the Town generates little revenue by renting it out (about 30-40 nights a year), the school is making significant use of it.

Questions about the capital and operating costs of the on-site sewage treatment are also unresolved, he said.

County Councillor Ken Chapman has also been a harsh critic of the agreement. He had been on the board, representing the county’s role as the library operator. He was serving as chair of the board, but recently resigned without explanation.

Councillor Barb Tocher, who was mayor during the planning of Centre 2000, defended the shared-use concept.

“Neither party owns the shared-use portion. It’s not draw a line down the middle of the building. It’s a very unique facility – there are very few in Ontario,” she said. 

“It really doesn’t matter if the Upper Grand District School Board paid for the entire facility, if the Town of Erin paid for the cost of the entire facility. Guess what? It’s the same taxpayer.

“It’s the town of Erin that uses that facility. Very few outsiders use that facility. It’s only our children that go to that school. It’s our citizenship that uses the library. It’s our seniors in the seniors room. It’s our toddlers in the pre-school. It’s ours, all of ours.”

In a letter to the Town, Trustee Cooper praised municipal and school staff for their excellent day-to-day cooperation in running the building.

“We need to have objective measurement systems and transparency on the full costs of operations and upcoming capital needs,” she said.

“We do need to make sure the agreement is fair. But first, we must do the objective analysis to determine if it is or not. Let’s allow staff the priority time to work together to sort out the invoices and the measurement systems before deciding on next steps.”