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Parking, boat launch, recreation fees, Swanmore Hall among hot topics during budget talks

Committee spent first of two days poring over $41.2M worth of proposed capital projects and will face some difficult decisions tomorrow
2018-06-06 Orillia City Centre
Orillia City Centre

City council members wrapped up their first round of capital budget discussions Tuesday.

Going into that meeting, after dealing with the operating budget last week, the increase to the tax levy for 2022 was sitting at 3.25 per cent. Council had initially asked staff to aim for no more than 3.5 per cent.

That figure could still change, as deliberations on the capital budget — worth $41.2 million — will continue Wednesday, followed by budget ratification on Dec. 6.

Council members had the opportunity to pull certain projects staff are recommending be included in the budget. The pulled items can be left out of the 2022 budget or altered.

Budget committee chose 18 and will decide the fate of those projects Wednesday.

Included in that list is $48,000 to hire a consultant to develop drawings for a reconfigured design of Swanmore Hall on the Leacock Museum grounds. That project is meant to coincide with a five-year lease that has been signed between the city and someone who will be operating a restaurant out of the building.

Another item in the budget calls for $100,000 for improvements to the facility, including floor replacement.

It seemed like too much for Coun. Ralph Cipolla.

“From a business point of view, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.

“Just close it down.”

Council members will also revisit a $65,000 request for a consultant to review and recommend changes to rental rates at the city’s recreation facilities.

Coun. Jay Fallis asked if that was something staff could do instead.

Amanpreet Singh Sidhu, city solicitor and general manager of corporate services, noted a core services review determined Orillia’s net cost of recreation programming was $32 per capita, while that figure was $21 among comparator municipalities.

“We have to find the root cause of why this is happening,” Sidhu said.

“Staff are not experts at root-cause analysis.”

The most expensive project — at $17.8 million — that was pulled to be discussed Wednesday is Phase 2 of Centennial Drive improvements.

Coun. Tim Lauer wants to look into potential traffic-calming measures and ways of making the area more pedestrian friendly.

Some concerns were also raised about proposed changes to the Centennial Park parking lot, which is also home to the boat launch. Staff are suggesting $75,000 be used to hire a consultant to complete a detailed design and some other work.

Staff said a redesign of the parking lot is required as a result of the future Centennial Drive realignment. Under the proposed plan, the boat launch would remain, but the parking layout would make it easier to navigate the launch.

“We have a significant safety issue here,” Lauer said, suggesting the project be put on hold and a working group be formed to come up with a strategy.

The project would also eliminate about half the number of parking spots.

“I will not support losing 50 per cent of our parking spaces down there,” Cipolla said.

The question of whether the city should purchase electric vehicles for its fleet was raised Tuesday.

Staff are proposing the purchase of nine vehicles at an overall estimated cost of $1,270,000. All of the vehicles they want to replace have exceeded their life expectancy, staff said.

Given the amount of driving that is done in city vehicles, adequate charging, if they were electric, could pose a challenge. However, when purchasing new ones, staff said they could look at opportunities for “some sort of electric vehicles.”

That matter, along with all the previously mentioned ones, will be discussed again Wednesday.