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annefs-smallBy Anne Finlay-Stewart

These notes are just that – observations and musings on what I see, and a little more meat on the thin bones of official minutes. If you want to see what I saw, we post the video of each city council meeting on our City page as it becomes available. When they have been approved, the minutes can be found on the city site or from a link on our City page.

 

Public meetings – These are opportunities for members of the public to hear about and have a say on issues before council, often mandated by the Ontario Municipal Act. This week there were three such public meetings in a row – about re-zoning property for the residential hospice, small changes in building permit fees, and the 2015 city budget. Not a single comment from the audience.

 

Deputations – Individuals and organizations request the opportunity to present information or requests in person at council meetings, and the subject matter can be almost anything. This week we gave a facade grant for the improvements in the 2nd Avenue East heritage building that houses Community Living. We heard about the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority's 2015 budget which includes only a 1.7% increase in Owen Sound's levy to cover cost of living increases in wages and benefits, and their plans for repairs to our mill dam.

 

Francesca Dobbyn promoted the annual Seniors' Fair on June 3 and asked the city to proclaim that "Seniors' Day" in the city and offer free transit free. She was encouraged to find a sponsor to pay the cost of free transit – approximately $1000.

Bruce Power sent its Vice President of Corporate Affairs to provide what has become an annual update on their work. Making the case that the Bruce provides almost 30% of Ontario's electrical power and many jobs in this region is particularly important this year as the nuclear facility goes through its every five year licence renewal process with its regulators.

 

Director of Operations Ken Becking pulled no punches in describing the condition of Owen Sound's city hall. The building had an expected useful life-span of 50 years when it was built in 1965. That was, well, fifty years ago. Building codes and standards were very different back in the day when single pane windows were installed and little attention was paid to insulation and moisture control. We now have a very damp building given to extremes in temperature. Besides the deterioration of systems within the building over that fifty years, Becking pointed out in his report that "number of staff, their environmental expectations, accessibility concerns, and a better understanding of ergonomics has dramatically changed the character of modern workplaces". The building can be repaired and systems replaced in a piecemeal fashion, but Becking warns that one fix without another could cause more work. The work could be done on sections of the building at a time, but even the best case scenario is only a ten to fifteen year extension on the life of the building. Replacement of the whole building, perhaps with residential or commercial space included to provide operating revenue, is also a possibility. All options for the building will be considered expensive in Owen Sound's current fiscal situation, but money will have to be spent and Mr. Becking is encouraging sound and timely planning to avoid costly emergency repairs.

Council agreed that crucial issues, like fire separation in the boiler room and water pooling on the roof , should be looked into immediately but that former reports on the building's condition should be circulated to council and discussed before any further decisions are made.

 

Minutes of committees provided some interesting revelations. The Branningham Grove on 16th Street East, variously known as Louie's Steak House or Meg Matthew's brothel, was given a demolition permit on March 5 by the city as it has consistently failed to meet property standards by-laws. The building was added to the heritage property registry in 2008, when public interest was piqued by plans for a retail development on the site. Owners offered to retain the heritage features of the building, apparently offering to take it down brick by brick and move it to a different site on the property. Instead it has been allowed to deteriorate while the developers built the ironically-named Heritage Grove on the south side of 16th Street. The clock is ticking.

If you want to see what else you have missed from Owen Sound's past, visit greybruceimagearchives.com where everything still exists, at least in two dimensions.

 

A bus fare increase approved by the previous council when it was discovered that our fares were 30% below the provincial average, will take place in two stages. Single ride fares will rise 25 cents on April 1st and a further 25 cents on January 1, 2016. The cost of a monthly pass will rise by $5.00.

 

Council has spent four full days reviewing, discussing and cutting the 2015 budget.

This week's council meeting began with a public meeting to present an overview of that same budget. Our provincial grant was cut by $200,000 (a loss that would take a 1% tax increase to replace), police and fire budgets increased by $350,000 and modest salary and benefit increases for the rest of city staff added another $350,000. The city portion of the tax bill will increase by 4.41 percent, but when the school board and county portions are factored in, the taxpayer will see a 2.1 percent increase over all, likely keeping pace with inflation.

 

The meeting ended with a very detailed proposal by Councillor Scott Greig to reduce the overall budget by a further $300,000-plus to bring the city tax rate down a further .2 percent. After a line-by-line review by Director of Finance Wayne Ritchie, an explanation of how some departments are structured, and a passionate defence of the public library as the "best used public space in Owen Sound", Councillor Greig's motion was defeated 7 to 1.


 

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