By a slim margin, Grey County council has voted in favour of pausing the redevelopment of Grey Gables long-term care (LTC) home in Markdale.
In 2019, Grey County received approval from the Ontario Ministry of LTC for the redevelopment of two LTC facilities - Rockwood Terrace in Durham and Grey Gables in Markdale.
At a recent meeting, county councillors were provided with an update to the cost estimates for the LTC redevelopment of both facilities.
The update noted a 42 per cent increase in project costs since the last projection that had been provided in 2019.
And, if the county were to proceed with both projects, Mary Lou Spicer, director of finance for Grey County outlined that “it would require the county to borrow nearly $90 million on a 25-year term and require at a minimum increase to the annual levy of $2.3 million or four per cent.”
With new cost projections in hand, councillor Brian O’Leary of Owen Sound presented a notice of motion that would ask county council to consider moving forward with the Rockwood project in order to meet the 2025 deadline, and to place a hold on the Grey Gables project until council decides otherwise.
On Thursday the county held a special committee of the whole meeting where councillors voted 50 to 40 in favour of pausing the project in Markdale.
The recorded vote showed both councillors from Georgian Bluffs, Owen Sound, Hanover and Southgate supported the pause, while the two representatives from Chatsworth, Blue Mountains and West Grey opposed it.
The representatives from Grey Highlands and Meaford were split on the decision with each representative voting in opposition to each other.
Those in favour of pausing the redevelopment project argued that it would not be fiscally responsible to take on the required debt for the redevelopment; that the Grey Gables facility is currently up to Ministry standards and the redevelopment is not mandatory at this time; and that pausing the project does not mean that it will not go forward, it would just see the more critical LTC project at Rockwood Terrace take precedence.
“There's a figure in front of us that, in my opinion, we can't afford. And that's where the decision lies. I think it would be irresponsible to spend that much money all at once,” said O’Leary. “This is about living within our means, and this is just too much money at one time.”
Those opposed to pausing the redevelopment stressed that delaying would only further increase project costs; that LTC is a desperately needed service in the region and that pausing the project may put the Ministry approval for the new beds at risk.
“I think a majority of people in the county have asked for quality LTC for their grandparents, for their parents, would be glad to pay that amount of money. I recognize, there's a cost. But I think if we don't go ahead with this rebuild, the future financial costs and human costs will be much higher,” said Scott Mackey, mayor of the township of Chatsworth.
Grey County CAO, Kim Wingrove added that in discussions with ministry representatives, the LTC department would be open to discussing an extension to the 2025 completion date for the Grey Gables project.
“The province has approved a project at Green Gables with a completion date of 2025. And so we can ask them to extend that completion date. But to ask them to hold beds outside of the of the application that we've made right now likely doesn't work,” Wingrove said.
She also noted that at this time, neither Rockwood Terrace or the Grey Gables have a signed development agreement with the province.
Prior to the vote, Grey Highlands Mayor Paul McQueen moved that the motion be deferred until the county could acquire a written guarantee from the ministry that if the project were paused, the county would not lose the 62 new beds earmarked for the Markdale site.
“We need some assurance that if we take a pause here, those beds are still going to be there when we are ready,” McQueen said.
The motion was defeated in a recorded vote, 40 to 50.
Grey County will now move forward with the redevelopment of Rockwood Terrace, which, according to the county, will have no impact on the levy. The redevelopment of Grey Gables will be paused until the county council decides otherwise.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca