By John Swartz
Orillia council meets today at 3:15 p.m. in closed session. The open session should start at 4 p.m. In closed session council will discuss the disposition of Horne Business Park land. This is a sale in addition to the sale of two lots a few weeks ago.
When council goes public, they have 7 items on the agenda. The first is from the Orillia Public Library Board. Board chair Kelly Seymour and library CEO Bessie Sullivan will be in attendance. The issue is a budget surplus. The board contends the Library Act allows them to use surpluses at their discretion, while the City says not so fast.
Last September the board approved a consulting fee to help the board develop a strategic plan. This was an unbudgeted item ($20,905) in the 2021 budget and the board planned to pay for it from a projected surplus (which ended up as $104,000). The ministry of heritage, sport, tourism, and culture industries said:
“It is the Ministry’s general understanding that the money is the library’s money as provided in the estimates process. Surplus money at the end of the year – or a portion of it – can be offered back to the municipality but a library is not obligated to return the funds.”
The consultant issued two invoices, one in November, which was paid, and one in December, which the City did not pay and did not tell the board of that action until February 1, after the consultant inquired about payment. The City did pay by February 8.
The handling of surpluses is still in dispute and City staff said the only way to resolve it was to appear at council and ask to re-allocate some of the library’s surplus. They are also saying the board should ask to be responsible for surpluses and deficits going forward.
Staff’s advice to council, and practice, is surpluses should return to the City and allocated to reserves for use to alleviate shortfalls or emergencies.
The recommended motion is to release the outstanding payment (which later on in the report says has been done) and allocate the money from the library 2021 surplus; and to allow the library to control their future surpluses retroactively to 2021; and the balance of the surplus be allocated to replacing the replacement sorter council authorized at budget and remove the expense from the reserve account covering the expense.
This is an old tug of war between the library board and the City. The library consistently ran surpluses (during the years this author was finance chair of the board) but not of an amount remotely approaching 6 figures. Those amounts were always returned to the City, which in turn chastised the board for a $15,000 deficit in one fiscal year caused in part by a late monthly accounting report from the City to the board. The board also struggled at times with re-allocating approved funds when expenses in one area turned out to be less than anticipated to another area.
Turn Off That Darned Light
Staff have a report and recommendation council amend the municipal code to include the ability for by-law officers to enforce, proactively, or by complaint, a new nuisance lighting by-law (i.e. neighbours new flood light shining right into the bedroom next door). Tied to the recommendations is a referral to the environmental advisory committee to develop a dark sky outdoor lighting campaign. A number of updates to the property standards by-law are part of the report. In the by-law enforcement currently mandated to be on a complaint basis, not proactive.
Staff are also recommending some changes to the sections regarding elevators, air conditioners and hedges at property’s edge. Regarding lighting, There is nothing in the current by-law to compel people to divert light to avoid annoyance to neighbours
Show Us The Money
The City has been awarded a $603,750 grant for improvements to the Barnfield Recreation Centre and to Tudhope Park. The bulk of the money will go toward the development of multicourt/mainstage area with connecting pathways in the easterly portion of the park and the rest for the installation of fibre internet and public access Wi-Fi in the recreation center.
The total budget for both projects is $805,000. The City is putting up $191,250 from reserves and the Mariposa Folk Festival is providing $10,000 of in-kind funding.
A report from the business development, culture and tourism department is recommending council approve $200,000 on funding from the community improvement plan reserve for 2022 tier 1 and 2 grants for the Downtown Tomorrow Community Improvement Plan and $700,000 from the same reserve for tier 3 grants.
The lower tier grants are for covering the costs of planning improvements, and contributing a portion of funding for the improvements. Tier three grants are to cover the costs of cancelling property taxes for three years on brownfield sites, subsidizing development charges up to 50% or $250,000, and covering 70% of increased taxes for ten years (100% for 12 years on brownfield sites).
This grant program has been successful in helping revitalize a number of properties in the downtown core such as the Common Stove, Creative Nomad Studios and part of the former West Street shopping plaza.
Councillor Ralph Cipolla has a motion that staff be directed to report on the feasibility of expediting the 2023 waste diversion site disposal assessment – meaning move up the time frame to do it.
Councillor Dave Campbell wants council to direct staff to report on the status of the technical land evaluation project (annexation). He would like data to include increasing intensification and green field targets beyond provincial requirements. Recently, consultants informed the city they have refined the total land requirement projection substantially downward.
The regular council meeting is a video conference and the chamber is closed to the public. The public can watch it live on Youtube.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)