Municipal politicians have agreed to spend $25,000 to help improve accessibility to the Survivors Memorial Monument that was unveiled in the summer of 2019 at the Huronia Regional Centre.
The decision was made by budget committee during this week’s budget deliberations. Over two days, the committee - comprised of Mayor Steve Clarke and city councillors - passed the $62.4-million operating budget. The decisions are subject to ratification at a special Dec. 7 meeting of council.
Councillors Tim Lauer and David Campbell, who were among the municipal politicians at the moneumnet’s unveiling, championed the spending, which was not recommended by city staff, because the property is not owned or maintained by the city.
The request for funding came from Debbie Vernon, the communications coordinator for Remember Every Name, the group that is working to identify and mark gravesites at the cemetery.
She wrote a letter to city council in February seeking funding for amenities that would open up the monument to more people.
“Survivors hope to have a walkway installed leading from the cemetery and around the monument to be accessible to all people and seating for those who visit,” Vernon wrote in her letter to council.
She said the funding could help with a walkway, plaque, benches and sodding around the monument.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Lauer. “They’ve done a beautiful job out there on a very significant memorial to the people that were part of that institution.”
He noted the province has contributed funding. “That facility has been a part of our history and I think it’s incumbent on us to participate in this.”
“I remind my fellow councillors that the HRC provided good paying jobs and continues to provide pensions to people in our community that contribute to our economy, so the city has benefited financially from the institution being here for all those years,” said Campbell.
He said the funding would “allow those people and their families the opportunity to access that site that they're not currently able to because of the lack of sidewalks.”
Both stressed it’s a one-time expense.
Councillors Mason Ainsworth, Pat Hehn and Ted Emond suggested deferring the spending for a year, noting the goal was to freeze taxes. That means money for a project like this would come out of the tax rate stabilization reserve.
“I think this is a phenomenal project, but I think the timing is a bit of an issue for me,” said Ainsworth. “I don’t see it as an immediate need in the community.”
He said $25,000 is “a considerable amount of money,” and added he would support the expenditure in the future when worried about COVID impacts are in the rear-view mirror.
“I certainly see the purpose, but I think in light of everything else, delaying it for a year would be preferable,” said Hehn, who once worked as a summer student at the long-shuttered provincial facility on Memorial Avenue.
Lauer stressed the funding would not impact taxes, but would come out of a reserve account - whether it was approved this year or in the future.
“Those reserves are certainly healthy enough to accommodate this,” said Lauer, saying there is no real benefit of delaying it.
In the end, a majority of council agreed.
Based on decisions this week, the city will take about $628,000 from its tax rate stabilization reserve in order to ensure there’s no tax hike this year.
On Monday and Tuesday, the capital budget will be deliberated.