By Sue Tiffin
As Highlands East council settled in for a regular meeting of council on Nov. 26 to review and discuss organizational and facilities reports Mayor Dave Burton read from a prepared statement.
“I would like to bring to everyone’s attention that we collectively agreed that together we would strive to meet the needs of Highlands East now and in years to come” he read. “The ambitious four-year plan to tighten our belts and bring Highlands East into the future has begun. We stated that we would continue to strive towards financial sustainability and that in order to meet our current standards and prepare for the future extra funds would be required.”
Burton noted that this year council had both an organizational and facilities review conducted that the new municipality website would be released in December and that new accounting software would be used in 2020.
“Today as we are reviewing all of this information we need to determine the need sustainability and can the public afford it” he read. “Do we need all of these assets? Do we want to keep all of the assets and increase taxes to pay for the upkeep and future replacement? Do we keep status quo and allow all of our assets to deteriorate?”
He said he hoped council would be “open minded” reviewing the information “for the future of Highlands East.”
Councillors first discussed recommendations of an organization assessment conducted by Savino Human Resources Partners Limited of Peterborough and presented at council Oct. 8 within categories including efficiencies facilities and organization structure that included reducing the number of fire stations in the municipality implementing a meeting protocol to support a “one-team” mentality creating one office located centrally for staff and changing the organization structure including having an elected deputy mayor.
Chief administrative officer Shannon Hunter said that the election of a deputy mayor was not a simple change noting that a few things would have to be considered including potentially changing the ward system in order to ensure council had an odd number of councillors. Though councillors were generally in favour of an elected deputy mayor they were concerned about redrawing any ward lines.
Hunter said it was important the document didn’t become one “that sits on the shelf” and that suggestions would likely be brought forward through budget deliberations. The suggested changes and improvements were recommended to be implemented over a two- to three-year period with a decision on the deputy mayor process to be made one year prior to an election.
“Next year would be the year we’d want to make that decision” she said.
The facilities report conducted by WalterFedy and presented to council on Nov. 12 assessed the condition of 34 of the municipality’s facilities including sheds fire stations community centres and municipal administration facilities offering an extensive report for each structure. A total of more than $2 million in repairs is recommended in 2020.
WalterFedy determined that there were buildings that had reached the end of a functional lifecycle: the Glamorgan equipment shelter and garage the Cardiff pool facility’s change room and the fire station section of the Highland Grove fire station – the garage and storage warehouse section added later were considered to be in good condition.
“Most of the other deficiencies identified relate to the need to replace building elements as the current elements in use age and become either no longer effective or are no longer economically efficient to maintain” reads the portfolio summary provided by the consultant. High priority items largely fell under a health and safety category including replacement of fire and smoke alarm and detection systems upgrading exit signs and installing air exchange/fresh air systems in fire stations and maintenance garages.
Hunter said any repairs or replacements listed in the health and safety category were not negotiable.
The Glamorgan equipment shelter “has reached the end of useful life: is at risk of total collapse” reads the WalterFedy report with a photo included in the report showing a wall extended out from the building.
“The fact that it affects the structural integrity it kind of takes any decision-making out of our hands” said Hunter.
The Glamorgan equipment garage meanwhile “has significant deficiencies” needing addressing at a cost of $291796 if being required for operational use. Councillors discussed the possibility of combining the buildings for their intended uses if that might be more cost effective and efficient for staff.
Highland Grove Fire Station 2 and workshop was deemed to be in mixed condition – the workshop and storage section addition being acceptable but the fire station considered to be in poor condition with insufficient space for emergency vehicles. WalterFedy recommended repair costs totalling $567500 for 2019 and 2020 to the whole building noting a new stand-alone fire station building with 25 per cent additional capacity would cost between $1 million and $1.3 million.
Highland Grove residents have been concerned about a potential closure of their fire hall.
In discussing repairs recommended for Highway 28 firehall Station 6 totalling $150720 in 2019 and 2020 Councillor Cam McKenzie said: “You know we’ve got to know where we’re going where the fire halls are going before we start spending money on something that two years later might not be in the system … I’m not saying it’s not going to be a fire hall but I think that big decision has to be decided before we start spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
He said one positive thing that had come from the review was that council had some hard numbers saying they offered value in supporting decisions moving forward. McKenzie also said he would appreciate a “nice to have need to do and nice to do” list to help prioritize decisions.
WalterFedy recommended that an entire new pool facility – replacing the one built in 1957 – be built in Cardiff at a cost of $2.5 million recognizing “this may not be feasible for the municipality to manage.” At minimum it was recommended that a new change room and mechanical services room be constructed at a cost of $600000. The total repair costs recommended for 2019 and 2020 total $309800.
Councillor Ryall noted it was essential to look at the big picture plan for the order things must be done and acknowledge that “the pool is the reason we have a change room” that with repairs needed on the pool there was “no point in having a change room and then the following year the pool closes.”
McKenzie said he was not pleased that the deadline for an infrastructure grant that he thought the municipality would have been “a perfect candidate” for had been missed.
Throughout the meeting councillors asked department heads for further information about the history of buildings how they were currently being used by staff and what could be done differently for better efficiency and less environmental impact moving forward should buildings need to be replaced or repaired.
“One of the things that has been crystal clear today nothing that has been mentioned is minor or secondary” said Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall. “It’s all big stuff … And we [don’t have] the ability to handle all of it at once.”
Chief administrative officer Shannon Hunter said council would have to determine how to address priority items and whether or not they wished to “maintain everything we have.”
If so Hunter said it would be necessary to raise taxes or borrow funding.
Council received both reports as information. The organization report is available at highlandseast.ca while the facility report is available via council meeting agendas and minutes at haliburton.civicweb.net.