Twenty minutes into a debate on whether they should spend the money to replace the aging lighting system in the Elmvale Public Library, Springwater Township Mayor Jennifer Coughlin tossed off a clever one-liner.
“How many councillors does it take to screw in a light bulb?” she joked to no one in particular.
Well, at that point, five councillors, one deputy mayor and one mayor wasn’t enough.
And nor was it enough 15 minutes later when the debate finally wrapped up.
At issue during a recent 2024 budget meeting was a $60,000 request made by the Springwater Public Library to replace the aging lighting system in the Elmvale branch and spruce the place up with some much-needed painting.
Coun. Phil Fisher opposed the request.
“I think we can all agree that $60,000 for upgrading lighting and paint is an exorbitant amount of money,” he said. “I’d like to propose a reconsideration and not go through with it.”
Asked by the township clerk if he wanted the project removed from the capital budget, or if he wanted the project amended to a different amount or scope, Fisher confirmed he wanted it “removed.”
Deputy Mayor George Cabral didn’t have issues with replacing the lighting, but wanted more clarity on how the estimate was put together and whether it represented an accurate cost.
“I think it’s the amount of money involved here that gives rise to certain questions,” Cabral said. “Often, these amounts come before us, but we don’t know where these figures come from.”
He said he would like to see more detailed quotes.
Township staff were able to provide an updated quote for painting — $6,000 — but not for the lighting system due to the scope of the project. Staff estimated the cost of replacing the lighting system would be about $25,000.
The total cost, with the new painting quote, would be closer to $31,000 — around half the original estimate.
Jeff Schmidt, Springwater Township’s chief administrative officer, clarified for council that the funds needed for the lighting upgrades and painting would be taken from the library capital reserve and would pose no added burden to this year’s tax levy.
Jodie Delgado, chief executive officer of the Springwater Public Library, explained to council that the Elmvale branch is 30 to 35 years old and the lighting system has reached its end-of-life.
“We need to replace the lights — they’re burning out and we can’t get them replaced,” Delgado told council. “Fixtures are becoming obsolete.”
Coun. Brad Thompson supports replacing the lighting from reserves and called it “common-sense maintenance.”
He also pointed out that the library doesn’t own the building, the township does and as such, it should be maintained to the same standards as every other township-owned facility.
Coun. Matt Garwood said the answer was obvious.
“Regardless if it’s 30 or 60, if the funds are sitting in the capital reserve and you spend 30 then you take 30,” Garwood said. “We’re not taxing the residents today. We’re not saying it’s giving you (the library board) free will to go and add 50 other extra lights.
“You’re going to replace what’s there and paint what’s there.”
Garwood had one last comment: “To be honest, I’m shocked we’re sitting here — paper and light fixtures, that’s what we’re talking about today,” he said.
Fisher said he doesn’t have “the same cavalier attitude” toward spending taxpayer money.
“I’m not in favour of doing this project because It’s not clear what I’m spending taxpayer money on, regardless of whether it’s taxed already or not,” Fisher said.
Thompson implored council to support the request.
“I think, on this council, we should quit trying to be right and do the right thing,” he said. “This is the right thing for our library, it’s the right thing for our staff that works in our library and it's the right thing for our community.”
When all the talk was finished, Fisher withdrew his request to have the project removed from the capital budget.
It was replaced with an amendment that would approve the painting of the Elmvale library branch at a cost of approximately $6,000 and would see a staff report brought forward to council outlining the costs for the replacement of the light fixtures, to be considered for council approval.
The lights won’t get changed until sometime in 2024.
Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BarrieToday.com