Kneehill County hears Trochu request for backing on $20 million project

·4 min read

The County of Kneehill will develop a list of conditions to ponder after municipal neighbours asked for help with a $20 million seniors housing project.

The decision was made after a lengthy presentation and debate at the Jan. 26 regular meeting of council held via YouTube.

Councillors heard a presentation from the Town of Trochu Mayor Barry Kletke and Trochu Housing Authority’s Sam Smalldon.

Kletke submitted a letter and Smalldon appeared via video.

Kletke’s letter read, “The Town of Trochu requests Kneehill County support for the long-term housing and care needs of our seniors to enable them to stay in our communities longer and receive the care they deserve.

Based on our business case presented and as requested in your letter of Jan. 18, 2021, our specific ask is for a letter of support based on the following Kneehill County resolution; That Kneehill County council provide financial backing to the Town of Trochu for borrowing $20 million for up to five years as project financing for the construction of the Trochu Seniors Supportive Living Facility Project.”

During Smalldon’s presentation to council it was mentioned a major grant, up to $19 million, is apparently available for this project and that the project in question would be a “life lease” model which he noted “have been around for a long time,” including about eight or nine years in Olds, Alta.

Coun. Ken King asked how the county would know there would be no further funding requests if this one was approved.

Smalldon answered there is enough demand for seniors housing of this kind there shouldn’t be any need for more money.

Coun. Wade Christie noted a future provincial election may result in a change of government and stated this may affect grants.

Smalldon responded he didn’t foresee trouble as, “...usually commitments are honoured.”

Reeve Jerry Wittstock asked if the financial report the Town of Trochu included with Kletke’s letter was accurate, and Smalldon responded the budget is solid regardless of any overruns or high tenders.

Smalldon explained the project units will be pre-sold with 10 per cent deposit down. He noted the scenario is based on 85 per cent occupancy.

When asked how much 10 per cent would be, Smalldon answered the units will sell for $225,000 so 10 per cent would be $22,500.

Coun. Faye McGhee asked if seniors facilities have seen residents withdrawing, and Smalldon stated even with the pandemic the Trochu organization has seen very few withdrawals, maybe three or four out of 300 residents.

Later, councillors debated the request.

Coun. King noted he would like to see the county support the Town of Trochu with some conditions, including the grant must be received and ratepayers consulted through the bylaw process.

King noted there is risk in this project like there is in any project. “There’s no such thing as no risk,” said King.

Coun. Christie agreed with King, noting the project’s impact on local employment, that it will host both urban and rural residents and that it may not be as risky as it appears because it depends greatly on whether the large grant is received.

McGhee noted ratepayers in the past have told her they don’t want the county going into debt, that she also had doubts about the need for this facility especially in her division and that public consultation is necessary.

“I have some really huge concerns about us doing it,” said McGhee.

Reeve Wittstock stated he sees the pandemic causing changes to the way seniors housing is handled and he saw more risk in this project than what the ratepayers should be exposed to.

Coun. Debbie Penner stated she wanted to work with Kneehill’s municipal partners but also noted conditions for Kneehill help were needed.

King moved a motion that administration develop a list of possible conditions that could allow Kneehill County to support the Town of Trochu's request, and bring them back to the first regular council in Feb.

However, Coun. Keiver stated he didn’t feel it was necessary to wait until February and felt that council had enough information to vote on Trochu’s request immediately.

The motion passed apparently by a 5 to 1 vote, with Keiver opposed.

Readers should note it appeared to youTube viewers that Coun. Jim Hugo was not participating in the meeting.

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review