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City grants program going forward amid concerns about cost

Council rubber-stamps decision to move to next phase of Downtown Tomorrow grants; request is 'too big for one year,' says Coun. Jay Fallis
2018-06-06 Orillia City Centre
Orillia City Centre

The next phase of a city grants program will go ahead despite objections from two councillors.

Council committee last week approved a staff request to put $200,000 toward Tier 1 and Tier 2 of the 2022 Downtown Tomorrow Community Improvement Plan (DTCIP) grants program as well as $700,000 for Tier 3.

Tier 3 is new and includes a brownfields tax assistance program, a development charge grant program and a tax increment grant program, while tiers 1 and 2 are for smaller projects such as facade improvements and the creation of residential units.

Last week, Coun. Jay Fallis said the $700,000 was too much. Coun. Tim Lauer also wasn’t sold on the Tier 3 funding. Both repeated their concerns during Monday’s council meeting.

“The request for $700,000 is too big for one year,” said Fallis.

He asked if staff knew what projects might be submitted for DTCIP grant consideration.

Staff know of about a dozen properties “that have potential to be redeveloped,” said Laura Thompson, senior manager of business development.

She said she was aware of three potential projects, though she couldn't provide specific details yet.

One investor who has properties in a few communities “would like to move Orillia up in terms of his timeline for a project, but it will depend on any incentives that are available,” Thompson said.

Another is looking at other locations in town but will “consider” a project downtown if grants are available, she added.

Lauer said this isn’t the time to be offering incentives for major development projects through Tier 3.

“The development world is on fire, basically, and I don’t think incentives are really necessary at this particular time,” he said. “There’s huge money being made in residential development. It’s feeding into a (housing) shortage that we all know about.”

Coun. Ted Emond defended the Tier 3 funding, noting the money is already in a reserve that has been built up over the years.

“It’s not new money that we’re asking the taxpayers to put up. It’s in a dedicated fund for that purpose,” he said.

“Whether it is in the reserve now or would have to be put in the reserve, it is certainly taxpayers’ money,” Lauer responded.

He doesn’t believe city incentives would “be the difference” for developers who are “hanging on the edge of a multi-million-dollar deal.”

“If you’re going to hand somebody a cheque, of course, they’re going to say this is important, this is critical. Who wouldn’t say that if you’re going to hand them a cheque?”

Coun. Pat Hehn said the city needs to take the lead on brownfield remediation.

“By adding this incentive, it may make the difference between whether a developer decides to go ahead or not,” she said.

Mayor Steve Clarke also supported the next level of funding.

“The sooner that these projects happen, the sooner that their valuation goes up by (the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) and the sooner we start realizing increased taxes at the city to help pay back this reserve,” he said.

“The amount is not insignificant — you’re absolutely right, Jay — but it’s also for those transformational projects that lead to other developments, and that’s why, I think, the amount is what it is.”

Fallis and Lauer were the only two to vote against providing Tier 3 funding.