‘We shouldn’t have to ask taxpayers for their money’

·3 min read

The proposed Elora Riverwalk project created a buzz at the county council meeting this week as councillors debated whether they contribute the requested $915,300 or not.

At Thursday’s meeting, Coun. George Bridge presented the economic development committee’s Oct. 19 report to council which included the Elora Riverwalk project proposal.

“The Elora Mill, a subsidiary of Pearle Hospitality, is proposing a partnership with the County of Wellington to develop the Riverwalk, a new public space in downtown Elora. This is a fairly big development project,” said Bridge.

“The Riverwalk is part of the Elora Mill South development, which will expand the downtown core and includes plans for boutique services, shops, restaurants and creative spaces for artists.”

Rehabilitation of deteriorating and non-use space, providing the public with access to the river, and creating a new, unique space for events and activities, such as pop-up markets, music on the river are just some of the proposed values this new project will reportedly bring to the Elora community.

However, what sparked the heated debate among council members is the fact that in the proposal, Elora Mill South development is asking the county to collaborate on a federal grant application, which includes a financial commitment of $915,300 from the county.

“This is a private sector project and they’re involving the county solely because we own a small piece of land that’s part of the proposal project. We’re being asked roughly $1 million for it,” said Coun. Campbell Cork.

“We’ve been talking about our 2022 budget and we’ve been wringing our necks on how we can reduce tax rates, but this project will only increase that. This seems like a good project for the economy, but it’s a private sector project meaning we shouldn’t have to ask taxpayers for their money.”

The county has traditionally taken the approach that as one community benefits from a new business, all communities benefit through increased taxes. The project proposes more jobs and development charges.

Once fully completed in 2030, the Elora Mill South development is estimated to pay annual property taxes of $1,871,581 with $923,723 is paid to the county specifically.

Bridge reminded council that this proposal is at its early stage, noting that the committee has asked for more funding information.

“Yes, that’s what I thought that the proposal is at its early stage. I’d like staff to provide quite a bit of context as there were some assumptions made by councillor Cork that were quite inaccurate,” said Warden Kelly Linton.

Jana Burns noted that the committee is tasked to look at projects involving jobs and the economy, “specifically this project as you can see the county owns one third of the property and this public space will be bringing in established bars, restaurants, shopping and hotels in front of the river.”

On the subject of staff reporting on more information, Rockwood Mayor Chris White wants them to also look at ways the funding can be reduced or if there are other ways the developer can get that funding without the county.

Bridge re-read the motion for this proposal project in order to remind the council that the committee decided to consider supporting the Federal Economic Development Agency funding application and contributing funding toward the Elora Mill Riverwalk project.

The warden notes that councillors were getting ahead of the process and are focusing too much on the proposed funding. He motioned for the staff to come back with more information on funding.

Angelica Babiera, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com

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