Renfrew -- The average ratepayer in the town of Renfrew will see thei municipal portion of their tax bill increase by approximately $72 a year to help offset the costs of some major infrastructure projects such as the major expansion taking place at Ma-Te-Way Activity Centre (MAC), refurbishing the CP Caboose, upgrading the Renfrew Public Library and some road construction projects.
The decision to accept Treasurer Erin Broome’s recommendation of 3.5 percent was made at a special council meeting held May 3.
Although some major road projects such as the Stewart Street corridor linking the town to Highway 60 and the Burnstown Road rehabilitation are coming to an end, there is a long list of projects aside from roads that moved up the list.
If successful with a $3 million grant application submitted to the federal government, the town’s historic library will get a long overdue upgrade and much of the work centres around improving its physical state.
The building was completed in 1920 and over 102 years there was only one recent major overhaul and that occurred in the Children’s Department located in the basement of the two-storey building in 2018.
Directly across the street from the library, Low Square, which houses both the town’s administrative offices and the Ontario Court of Justice, was not forgotten by council. They set aside $300,000 for upgrades to the building which was also home to the Ontario Provincial Police up until 2019 when they relocated to a new bulding. The town is responsible for the infrastructure of all aspects of the building.
Road projects starting in this year’s spending includes more work on Highway 60, but this time it is on the opposite end of the corridor with work being done on O’Brien Road from Gillan Road to Mask Road. The two-year project is currently pegged at $1.8 million in the 2022 budget and $1.7 million in 2023.
Work on stretches of Dufferin Street, Haig Avenue and Joffre Avenue near the MAC have also gotten their forecasts, but they’re currently over budget and the town is looking to find cost savings.
Some of the roads on the “wish list” are sections on Harry, Argyle and Monroe Streets, but there is no money set aside for those projects.
No budget would be complete without some differing of opinions on some projects, and the proposed repainting and rehabilitation of the CP Caboose located in Howie Haramis Park and debate on the issue was at times heated, and personal.
The railway caboose was delivered to the park in the early 1990s and for the most part, it was denied funding by subsequent councils to the point the presence of lead paint and dangerous structural issues too expensive to tackle, the caboose was shut down more than five years ago due to safety concerns and council was taking a hard look at removing it and selling it for scrap metal.
Last summer, a group of concerned citizens stepped forward and offered to complete the required renovations using their own funds, but so long as they had the support of council.
Part of that support included $5,000 earmarked for the group but Councillor Mike Coulas made a motion to remove the $5,000 from the budget.
Councillors Sandi Heins and Andrew Evans spoke passionately about the caboose and Coun. Evans said the current council and past councils’ shoulder much of the blame for the deteriorating condition of the caboose.
“I am really surprised to hear some of the comments made about these historical needs and this council, nor has the previous councils, ever spent a dime on these structures and now is the time to invest in them,” he said.
Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Hill took offence to comments by both councillors when they suggested the recreation department never made an effort to invest in the caboose.
“In fact, we brought recommendations in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2021 to both the rec committee and council, of which both Councillor Evans and Heins were members and they voted against it. So, I just want to make it clear the rec director did attempt to make efforts but councils turned them down.”
Reeve Peter Emon sensed the motion had the potential to be dragged through a very long debate with all parties not having access to the history of its financing and he recommended the motion be tabled until everyone is up to speed on its previous financing.
“We should table the motion until May 24 because I think we are getting a host of different information from different sources, and I don’t think any of us feel like sitting here till 11o’clock tonight with no resolution, so I am asking for this to be tabled.”
Coun. Coulas argued there was still no insurance presented by the volunteer group so he said the $,5000 should be removed. Councillor Arlene Jamieson agreed with him and fell just short of accusing the volunteer group of not being organized enough to get insurance.
Coun. Heins took offence at the comment and the two councillors were talking back and forth during the debate until Mayor Eady endorsed Reeve Emon’s motion to table. The matter it will be brought back at the next meeting with a final yes or no on whether it should receive funding of $5,000.
Once past the contentious issue of funding for the caboose, council eventually voted unanimously for the 3.5 percent increase. The budget will be introduced at the May 24 council meeting and should pass intact, with or without the $5,000 caboose budget line.
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader