Powassan council to create strategic plan with legion branch

·4 min read

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 453 may have dodged a bullet after council changed its mind about terminating the lease agreement it has with the branch.

But it will have to discuss a short and long-term strategic plan to look at its financial viability. The municipality bought the building at 62 King Street in 2016. At the time the branch was facing tough times and the municipality helped ease the financial pressures it faced by acquiring the building and spending money on it. But the municipality’s finances have been under tremendous strain and both Deputy Mayor Randy Hall and Coun. Debbie Piekarski have called on the municipality to extricate itself from the lease agreement. The resolution that introduced the debate noted the lease agreement “is not a fiscally sound agreement for the municipality” and the municipality “has a fiduciary duty to its taxpayers.” The lease has another 20 years to run and the resolution states over the next two decades “the costs associated with the Powassan Legion will continue to rise.” Piekarski said since buying the building, the municipality has put about $187,000 into it. “That's been a generous contribution to the legion,” she said. Piekarski favoured giving the building back to the Legion. The purchase was made under the previous council and Hall said he understood the rationale at the time. “But at that time the municipality was under the thought that we were more financially able to carry an extra asset,” Hall said. Hall agreed with Piekarski the municipality did “a good service to the Legion by taking over the building” by putting in upgrades. This also gave the legion time to get its finances in order. Hall said because of the financial pressures the municipality itself is now under, it's time to give the building back to Branch 453. “They would be starting from a very good place from a financial point of view,” he said. However Coun. Dave Britton told his colleagues he was “not interested in removing our support.” Britton said he wasn't sure the municipality could even extricate itself from the agreement, since it's a signed contract. But he agrees the Legion needs an operational plan that provides direction on how the branch can put money back into the building. Mayor Peter McIsaac noted the building is not the only asset the municipality owns where an organization operates and identified an inconsistency with how council behaves. McIsaac said the municipality also owns the Powassan Lions' Den building and also the facility that houses the Trout Creek Friendship Centre. He said like the legion building, the municipality also puts money into these assets but there doesn't appear to be any opposition from council members with this. McIsaac said contrary to some beliefs, the legion does distribute money around the community with its fundraising activities. “Perhaps they should be more vocal about what they do, but any money they raise, they give back,” McIsaac said. Like Britton, McIssac believes it would not be easy to get out of the lease agreement. Hall asked about discussing a strategic plan with the branch and suggested there might be a way the legion can help reduce some of the municipal costs that go into the building. Hall earlier said the municipality has laid off some employees, it's looking at a six per cent tax increase in its budget this year and the next council faces tough budget years. If the municipality can't extricate itself from the lease, Hall said, he wants a short- and long-term strategic plan developed so "that in 20 years we know where the asset will be.” The only plan that exists right now is that the municipality continues to pay the bills, he said. “We need something that shows there's an effort to reduce the (bills).” Both Hall and Piekarski wanted it understood they recognize the legion, which has existed in Powassan since 1947, does good work in the community. But Piekarski said the branch “needs to step up with a cost-sharing proposal.” Council agreed to pursue the strategic plan initiative and removed all information in the original resolution calling for a termination to the lease agreement with Branch 453.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget

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