Council comes to agreement over proposed pool

June 22, 2015

Town Council

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Saugeen Shores is one step closer to having a new pool, although it's not expected to actually happen for several years.

The report presented at Town Council on Monday night (June 22nd), put forward several recommendations focused on the Town's being in a position to submit a 'shovel-ready' grant application should upper-tier government funding become available.

The recommendation is to construct a two-tank aquatic addition to the existing Plex in Port Elgin but, with a price tag of some $12 to $13Million, a final move forward hinges on two-thirds grant funding becoming available from the Federal and Provincial governments. Without outside funding, the total capital cost would be borne by the Town through debt.

In the meantime, upgrades are being made to the existing Centennial Pool located at the high school in Port Elgin in order to ensure that core programming is sustained in the community.

According to MHPM Project Managers Inc. engaged by the Town to review the previous pool studies and come up with an updated report, earlier projections for population increase in the municipality and area were not justified and, in fact, growth is expected to "taper off" after 2016 and that, by 2026, the population will be 14,000 to 16,000.

MHPM also pointed out that "... there is a significant shift in demographics..." to a more senior population and, therefore, the way in which a pool will be used  differently focusing on low-impact Aquafit and recreational swimming.  The participation rate at the existing pool however, has almost doubled in the past ten years.  [To read the entire MHPM report, Click Here ... allow time to load]

"I think with the shift to a more senior population," said Councilor Cheryl Grace, "that this is a sound economic development plan because it's important for us to offer services to complement our growing senior population.  I have also spoken with parents and grandchildren who are concerned about providing long-term opportunities for learning to swim, which is a necessity living on a Great Lake.  I don't think that we should assume families will always have the opportunity or money to be able to go to Owen Sound or Hanover to be able to participate in swimming lessons.  Therefore, I support the recommendation."

Councilor Dave Myette was also pleased with the resolution and he expects it will remove a lot of the "divisiveness this issue causes in the community.  This is a very expensive project and this is a prudent approach to getting a 'shovel-ready' project."  He also agrees that a fundraising committee should be organized so that "... the community can also get behind the project and do all the necessary things to raise the funds and make this a reality."

"We've already spent over $100,000 for consultants and it's money well spent," said Councilor John Rich. "Now, what we have to do is figure out what we are going to do in going forward. I think this is a very clear recommendation and is fiscally prudent. It's good to continue to try and attract retirees to the community and a second tank is going to make a big difference.  It is $71 per household per year with two-thirds funding and I think we have to make sure we are shovel-ready so we don't miss out on the opportunity.  It is well within our debt capacity and as a group we want to help build healthy communities and I think that services like aquatic centres are a big part of that."

Vice-Deputy Mayor Diane Huber added that it is really important that the message that goes out to the community includes all the components of the recommendation.

 "It does not say a new pool is about to be built.  It says we will create some plans, much like Southampton did a long time ago regarding sewers on the north side.  It took a long time but when it happened we were ready.  It's also saying that two-thirds funding of $12 to $13Million is part of this," she said.  "I can be supportive of this but it is contingent on a whole lot of other things happening and we need to be clear about that.  It could be a very long time before some of these component parts come into play."

Huber pointed out that she thinks the grant opportunity is coming but it's a matter of when.  "We don't know if it will be three, four or 10 years out but, at some point, the Provincial and Federal governments will realize that it's about time to inject some funds into projects like this."

She also suggested to keep updating the numbers.  "I think $4.5Million of debt, while we may be able to accommodate it, at the same time the actual 'usership' numbers of any potential future facility are quite small and a council in the future will have to decide how to balance things off." 

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When it comes to community fundraising, Huber expressed concern over the community's capacity to raise $500,000 to one million dollars.  "Quite frankly," she said, " we have just gone through, and are still involved in, a big hospital campaign.  We can start chipping away at component parts of this document but this does not mean a pool will be added on to the Plex anytime soon."

"I don't think we are asking for anything different than any other municipality," added Councilor Neil Menage, "and the user numbers are well within those in other municipalities that own and operate a pool.  We can recover 50 per cent of the costs through user fees.  The good news story is that we've made a decision as to where this project should go and I'm in full support of that. We will need political pressure however.  We will need to squeeze somebody to get that two-thirds coming our way."

Menage added that his big concern is about fundraising.  "I don't think we should be asking people to jump on a fundraising committee too soon.  It tires people out and tires the volunteers out.  I think it needs to be for a pointed reason and not set up for a five to 10 year venture and that they're going to struggle because we're not there for whatever reason.  I agree with the Vice Deputy Mayor that our emergency room and hospital come first and we should close out that fundraising first."

Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau pointed out that the matter was brought forward at the beginning of the year in order to give some direction as to where the issue was going in the long term beyond the life of the Centennial Pool. 

"The Vice Deputy Mayor is correct," said Charbonneau, "this is not a short-term plan and we will require around $8.5Million from outside sources and the last time we saw stimulus funding like that was in 2009 for the Southampton sewer project.  The most important thing however, is to provide some certainty to our own staff, our Planning Department  and to our community as to what the direction will be."

"The recommendation tells us ... maintain the Centennial Pool for at least 10 more years and during the interim we can prepare the plans and designs so that, if during that 10 years funding becomes available, we can do this project." 

He also pointed out that the Town would have to be willing to commit when funding becomes available, "that this is what we are going to do and this is the project we will choose to do because, invariably, there will be an array of options and series of infrastructure projects that will come up.  I will support this recommendation with this as the priority first in my mind."  

Councilor Mike Myatt also said that he felt the motion was long overdue. "Although there hasn't been a lot of infrastructure stimulus money available, the Owen Sound 'Y' received $24Million in 2010.  Stimulus money is very cyclical. I don't think for a minute that the Feds and the Province are going to ignore funding for recreational infrastructure."

He also pointed out that there are a lot of needs around the province for aging recreational facilities.  "I think it will take three to five years if not longer to get this project done but the important thing is the motion is before us tonight to adopt a recommendation to have a new pool built in this community once and for all.  I think it is a positive resolution."

Mayor Mike Smith added that it is a good proposal that has been several years in the making. "We now have a direction in moving forward and, hopefully, we will get a  partner in senior levels of government to make this thing happen. The reality is it is pretty expensive proposition as a stand-alone and to fund the entire thing on the tax base is not acceptable to this council.  We have an option here however, that we can take a portion of it as debt financing, some of it will be fundraised and hopefully we'll have a partner in government."

The recommendation was unanimously passed to the sustain current operations at Centennial Pool, begin designs for a new two-tank facility at the Plex with sufficient funds to be added to the 2016 budget for plans and that future updates to the Town's Long Term Debt Policy be considered for funds to be used for a new facility.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015