October – Trick or Treat?
October’s Council Agenda had little potential to become a horror show but still included one possibility of something scary on the horizon. There was a long list of consent and administrative items, including the appointment of two additional Councillors to the MPUC Transaction Team, but the main features of the evening were three deputations lead off by Ms. Julia King representing Jarlette Health Services, owners of the Villa retirement centre. We’ll get back to her presentation in a moment because of the long-term ramifications of her presentation.
Second was Mr. Robert Sykes, CEO of the Guesthouse Shelter, who was there to deliver an update on the status of their new location at 422 Elizabeth Street and fundraising efforts to complete renovations on the site prior to winter setting in. While Mr. Sykes was pleased with the considerable donations of building materials, skilled labour and cash from local businesses and individuals, the shelter was still facing a $150,000 shortfall to complete the project. Mayor McKay interjected at that point, suggesting that the Town might assist in some type of short-term bridge financing in order to complete the project, and recommended that the group formally request that assistance, which we understand they will do. Should anyone wish to donate to this worthy cause that provides housing for Midland’s homeless, we know they would love to hear from you.
Next was Scott Campbell representing the Midland BIA. Mr. Campbell sought the Town’s support in offering a free bus shuttle service linking downtown to the First Light Festival being held at Ste.-Marie among the Hurons in November. The festival, which is recognized as one of the eight top seasonal attractions in the country, generated more than $810,000.00 in economic impact in 2015 – a number that is sure to grow with the addition of a third weekend for 2016. The intent of the BIA was to facilitate a great launch to the Christmas shopping season for downtown merchants by bringing the throngs of visitors directly to their front door, thereby bringing more of that economic impact to Midland. While Council was supportive, there was a bit more scrutiny on the financial aspects of the proposal than one might expect. Mr. Campbell appeared somewhat surprised when asked if he had sought a private sponsor to pay for the plan. His response was that the BIA’s first thoughts were to partner with the Town, who would be providing the logistics anyway, and at a total 40.5 hours of required service to cover all 3 weekends, the Town’s direct involvement would see a tangible return on its minimal investment. Council appeared prepared to move forward with the plan, deferring approval to an upcoming planning meeting as time is short. That leads us back to the evening’s first presentation.
Jarlette Health Services is proposing to construct a new, larger campus facility on a 16+ acre site it purchased in town to replace its existing operation on Yonge Street. A fixture in this community since 1973, the Villa is not only a solid employer but also a catalyst for the local economy, drawing residents and their families to the area. Ms. King was visibly frustrated when speaking to Council about the apparent unwillingness of staff to work with the company regarding the approximately $400K in required development charges. Frankly, we don’t believe it is within the purview of the staff to make that call, so perhaps Ms. King’s ire is misdirected. Such a policy change can only be made by Midland Council, so her deputation addressed the right audience. While not delivered in a threatening manner, Ms. King emphasized that if the Town was unwilling to look at new and innovative (her words) ways in which the Town could ease the burden of these heavy upfront costs – costs that are ABOVE the provincial average – Jarlette would have to make a business decision and look to develop elsewhere and leave Midland.
The Villa currently pays over $100,000 a year in property taxes. The new facility would, at current rates, apparently generate another $300,000 a year for an annual total of well over $400K per taxation year. If they choose to relocate to another community we lose the tax revenues and, more importantly, all the associated employment.
This is unquestionably a challenging issue. We wouldn’t suggest foregoing development charges because the burden will then simply fall on other Midland ratepayers. Nevertheless, we have here an opportunity to encourage development, create more jobs, increase the Town’s tax base, collaborate with an industry that will experience explosive growth as our population ages and perhaps create a municipal environment that could encourage other such organizations to redevelop here, bringing with them the associated economic boost. Canadian municipalities are very limited in their legal ability to provide incentives to business (unlike the sweetheart deals that American regions can offer), but development charges are one area of latitude. Perhaps we should consider a deferral of some charges to reduce the up front costs and allow Jarlette to pay them out of revenues when the new facility is operational. (Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also point out that we’d like to see our development charges become more competitive.)
We might compare this with the situation where Midland chose not to pursue about $130,000 in development charges from Jennark Homes over the “duplex/second suite” controversy. The building of residential units creates a few construction jobs and material purchases but very little else in economic spin-offs. In contrast, Jarlette Health Services is an economic multiplier. They will support construction trades and wholesale building materials in putting up the new facility, as well as providing ongoing quality employment. In addition to the residents, many staff will become Midlanders and spend their earnings here, creating further economic multipliers. The Villa’s residents’ families and other visitors will go out to eat in local restaurants, shop in local stores, and occasionally stay in some of our local visitor accommodations. Furthermore, this represents intensification within Midland’s central area, which has been mandated by the province, so we get economic multipliers and help satisfy provincial requirements. We see this as the exact kind of opportunity that deserves flexibility and outside-the-box thinking on the Town’s part and we hope to hear some good news on this front in the not-too-distant future.
Another item on the agenda was consideration of the draft Harbour By-law. Council’s first perusal was at General Committee two weeks earlier, when they directed staff to pare it down and include only those elements necessary to give Council the authority to address derelict and/or abandoned vessels in Town-controlled areas of Midland Bay. At first, Councillors seemed to agree that this revised draft met their objectives. Nevertheless, at some point during discussion, Councillors became concerned that perhaps they hadn’t considered all issues, and they tilted toward holding public consultations with those most knowledgeable and most impacted by changes in Midland Harbour policies. In the end, Council decided that there was no urgency to pass the by-law and deferred it to a future Council meeting. Meanwhile, a derelict vessel continues to languish on the shores of the future Midland Bay Landing, and there seems to be a lot of confusion about the status of that vessel. Is it on Town-controlled property, or is it on land leased from the Town? Does the Town have other means to have the vessel removed, rendering the Harbour By-law unnecessary for this purpose? Council seemed unsure of the answers, so perhaps the first order of business will be to figure this out and get rid of it before it starts to leak fuel and oil.
To wrap up this October update and in keeping with the late October season, we hope Council ghostbusters can stop this derelict boat from becoming a ghost ship that does horrible, frightening things to our beautiful waters of Midland Bay.
On behalf of the MidlandCommunity.ca team,
Steve Saltsman & Kevin Cowie