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Council approves seeking best proposals for old Picton town hall

Picton Town Hall

Council amended its Committee of the Whole motion Tuesday night to include a six-month timeline to receive request for proposal purchase offers and alternative proposals for the old Picton fire hall and town hall.

Community Development Director Neil Carbone told council the intention of the initial recommendation was to solicit a lot of options and gage opportunities.  Once the Request for Proposals is made – possibly over the next few months – the six month timeline for offers and proposals would begin.

“The purpose is to find the best possible use for the town hall. Over the past number of weeks I think that was not clearly conveyed to the public,” said Carbone. “The report specifically says not to declare the hall surplus at this time. I don’t think it was listed as clearly as it could have been… The purpose of the recommendation was to figure out what the best possible thing was to do and that could be any combination of ownership and uses.”

Seven County residents spoke to “immeasurable benefits” of the hall, its importance to the community, and asked for 18-24 months to come up with a sustainable plan for its future.

“Our town hall is owned by the people, the public, and the taxpayers. They have used, supported and maintained and honoured this building for over 150 years,” said Sandra Norval. “They have volunteered their time and made private donations to keep our Picton town hall viable and community-centred. There is a valid, moral obligation to allow them to be significantly involved in deciding its future… Every effort should be made to hear the voice of our taxpayers and citizens.”

Former Picton councillor Bev Campbell also spoke it the hall’s importance to the community.

“It’s the heart of the community,” she said, noting whatever happens to the town hall has to reflect the importance of it in the community.

“Keeping in mind the Picton town hall is the only place that meets all the gathering and meeting needs of the people of Picton. The reasons the property has significant market value are the same reasons it has significant community value… Let’s not rush into this. Give this matter the time and resources it deserves.”

“It is a public building that should not be turned over for private development,” said Gilles Miramontes. “In its legacy, tens of thousands of dollars have been donated by Archie and Claire Lamont for paintings and the stained glass window commissioned that were meant to adorn that hall in perpetuity… not to mention the donations from the public and the money spent in renovations of the hall… With all the numerous groups you’ve heard from last week, and this, there’s definately an impetus here in the County and there’s no reason why the public can’t use this building fully, given the time we need to find funding donors or patrons to step up to the plate and help us.”

In the wake of the news earlier this month that Royal Hotel owner Greg Sorbara has expressed interest to bid to purchase and keep the upstairs as a meeting hall, County businessman Michael Hymus has reached out on Facebook telling the “Save Picton Town Hall” group members of his ideas.

“I feel that trying to keep it in the hands of the community is a responsibility of those who have the means to do so,” he wrote.

He has offered to match every dollar raised to secure the hall for community activities and would consider it a loan and act as a silent partner while the group develops the hall as it sees fit.

“In the event you are able to raise enough money to purchase the property, but not continue to maintain and operate it, I would step forward and take control, and return your investment in full,” he wrote. “Should your group manage to purchase the hall I assume it would then become a non-profit organization and over the years I would expect that you would find ways to raise funds to pay me back in full.”

He noted that it while it may not be the exact scenario hoped for, he believed it fair and community minded. He suggested the target needed would be $1 million and that having at least $200,000 for maintenance, improvements and carrying costs would be necessary.

Should the group not be able to generate the resources needed, he stated he would try to purchase it on his own accord, for his own ideas.

“This building should be used as a drawing card for future tourism. I believe that there are many other locations, including the community center that offer better parking, accessibility and overall facilities than the current hall. If I am able to purchase the hall I would develop the second story into world-class hostel offering accommodations for tourists at an affordable price. Cyclists, wine groups and even hockey teams for example would all benefit from this type of business,” Hymus wrote. “These accommodations would also be affordable to P.E.C. summer staff such as chefs, apprentices or other people trying to stay and work in the county. On the main floor I would build an upscale pub. It would offer pub fare, local wines, beer and service with a smile. My intention would be to also offer a farmer’s market during the summer and a skating rink in the dead of winter for our community to enjoy. I believe that the fire hall could still be a place for social gathering an attraction for new tourism and would be enjoyed by more people more often than ever before.”

In response to questions about his recent purchase of the Lipson building, he noted his intentions for the Lipson Room above Books and Company, is to develop office spaces and may build storage lockers in the basement of the building to hosue artists’ supplies.

“I would then try to replicate a street named Rue du Tresor which is located in the heart of Old Quebec City. I wish to build artist “stations” with awnings and lights and line it with artisans trying to sell their work in the heart of downtown Picton. I believe that this would add yet another attraction to the beautiful downtown and would be really something spectacular.”

He reminded the group members “the cruel reality is that money does make the world go round and these properties need to generate income and contribute to our community.”

 

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  1. Dennis Fox says:

    Gary – one final point. To clarify for the readers, it is I who wants to maintain the Town Hall in public ownership and it is YOU who claims(as you suggested in an earlier posting) that selling it and leasing it back to the public is a reasonable thing to do. Your problem is that you have no proof that such a venture would benefit the public and you muddy the waters by throwing unrelated numbers at people – now that is a Trump thing to do!

  2. Dennis Fox says:

    Gary – sorry that you feel annoyed about some of my statements, but I believe that is due to you not reading accurately. Once again you have “lifted” a statement out of context and quoted only part of it – you forgot to include “both were however, built in a timely manner, with less interference and cost less.” This is why you cannot compare the Picton plant to those others,nor can you compare the subsequent rate increases that result from the process that you so proudly state you were part of. You have no reason to be annoyed with me, but now I believe you must know how the water users feel about their high rates.

    Gary – Thanks for the conversation.

  3. Gary Mooney says:

    Dennis, it’s pretty annoying that you make statements that you have pulled out of thin air, without doing any research — a technique used frequently by President Trump.

    Example: “NO the plants in London nor in the Okotoks have not proven to be anymore financially successful, nor technologically better…”

    Okotoks, AB, was visited by County officials, at the suggestion of Concerned Citizens, as part of the County’s due diligence. Okotoks’ water and wastewater services are provided by a P3, in partnership with Epcor, a City of Edmonton subsidiary that provides services to other municipalities.

    Here are annual charges to ratepayers in 2017, for average consumption of 124 cubic metres, for
    * PEC: water $603, wastewater $836, total $1439.
    * Okotoks: water $275, wastewater $415, total $690.

    I’d suggest that, at 48% of PEC, Okotoks is considerably more successful in providing these services to its ratepayers. And Okotoks has no debt for the two plants.

    We’ve gotten way off topic. Let’s get back to discussing Picton Town Hall.

  4. Dennis Fox says:

    Gary – as you stated prior, you were quite involved in the opposition to the sewage plant and in my opinion are at least partly responsible for the delays – not me. I find it interesting that you are now blaming Council entirely for the delays and cost over-runs. While I don’t disagree with your conclusion that Council had the “voting power” to proceed, the fact is they thought they were doing the right thing by listening to the residents – but didn’t consider the financial fallout of 5 years of delay. NO the plants in London nor in the Okotoks have not proven to be anymore financially successful, nor technologically better – both however, were built in a timely manner with less interference and cost less. The high waste water rates that you refer to, are due to the additional cost that five years of delay created – something that you and CCPEC are well aware of. The idea of them being lower if a P3 were implemented is strictly “pie in the sky” economics that have never proven to be beneficial anywhere.

  5. Gary Mooney says:

    Any delays, warranted or not, were created by Council: they had the voting power, not Concerned Citizens.

    In this case, a P3 solution would have resulted in a much less expensive plant, using technology that had been proven in western Canada and also in London, ON.

    And no, the implemented solution has not proven to be the best solution. Anyone stuck with paying the very high wastewater rates will explain that to you.

  6. Dennis Fox says:

    Gary – nothing you have said, I can disagree with – but your original position was that a P3 would have solved these problems. Nothing in this recent posting of yours disproves my position that a P3 solves nothing. Despite the delays that CCPEC created, which ended up to be very costly for this community, the old technology has proven to be the best solution – and after five years of complaining to Council, nothing about the plan for the sewage plant was changed.

  7. Gary Mooney says:

    Dennis, you were not involved; I was. Here were the main issues:
    * The County had a major inflow and infiltration (storm water running into the sewers). Rather than fix the problem first, the plant was overspecified to process this excess water.
    * The design chosen repeated 60-year old technology, rather than take advantage of less expensive newer, scalable technology. County staff would not accept anything but same old.
    * The existing site was not reused; rather, a site was chosen requiring the inflow to be pumped uphill, with the outflow being returned downhill.
    * The initial cost estimate for the plan, used in the grant application to the two higher levels of government and made by an external consultant, was overly optimistic.
    * Part of the cost overrun was due to the fact that one company designed the plant and another built if. It’s always more cost effective for one company to do both, because it designs for what it knows It can build at a reasonable cost.

  8. Dennis Fox says:

    The cost over-run on the sewage plant was a direct result of 5 years of delay – it had nothing to do with not proceeding with a P3 solution. At the beginning of the sewage plant process, our council applied for and received shared funding from both the feds and the province. Their contributions were based on the numbers the municipality gave them. The problem came when council dragged out the process over the next 5 years, often due to listening to the supposed community experts – thus making their initial numbers to be outdated and useless. Lacking the ability to make a timely decision was the reason for the additional cost. The increase in cost of over $10,000,000 was directly related to increases in both inflation and cost of materials and the cost of changing consultants -it had nothing to do with not proceeding with a P3 solution.

  9. Gary Mooney says:

    Almost a decade ago, Concerned Citizens of PEC proposed a public private partnership (P3) for the wastewater treatment plant. It would have used newer, scalable technology, and capital would have been provided by the partner. Instead, the County proceeded on its own, with disastrous results. We know have huge debt to pay off the plant, and water & wastewater rates that are in the top 1% in Canada.

    Even before that, there was a proposal, labelled “Shire Mahal”, to spend a huge amount ($9 million?) to renovate and expand Shire Hall. Concerned Citizens fought this, and County government decided not to proceed. Instead, the County leased space on a long-term basis in the Edward Building.

    One financial disaster self-inflicted, another averted.

    There is a limit on how much debt a municipality is allowed. If the County borrows for non-essential wants, it may find itself unable to borrow for essential needs. By entering into a sale-leaseback arrangement for the Town Hall, the purchase price would be used to reduce total debt, providing some breathing room for essential infrastructure projects.

    And we’d have the use of part or all of the Town Hall, on a long-term lease.

  10. Dennis Fox says:

    The P3 concept is an old one and I have never known one to work that benefits the public.. Such examples are Hydro and our Healthcare system In a half-hearted attempt to save the public money, past governments exposed the public to additional cost and at times to danger – in the example of Walkerton, when the previous government tried to save on Ministry water testing. Whether it has been increase hydro rates or a decrease in health services- do you remember the days when such services as physio and hearing were available and the cost covered, but now are additional costs to the public,or when a person never had to decided between paying their hydro bill and feeding their kids? Now it is a shared blame – the Green Energy Act is a disaster no doubt, but the selling off of hydro in another P3 partnership is equally one and just as costly to the public. They don’t work!

    Any idea of introducing a P3 arrangement on our Town Hall is not a good one. The bottom line is that private business wants to make a profit over a long period of time. Once whatever profit the municipality might receive, it will be quickly spent on a very small and unnoticed infrastructure project, the public will be left having to pay to use a building we now own. Doesn’t make a lot of sense does it?

    In my opinion,instead of trying to find a fast easy solution to our infrastructure needs(because there isn’t one), I believe that our council needs to start with themselves and start to downsizing their operation, plus have staff draw up a long term money saving plan and a money making plan (Mainly from the tourist trade), lobby our upper level government reps. for more money for this community – then develop an infrastructure replacement plan – “in consultation with the public.” At no point do they even consider selling one of our heritage buildings. Which then brings us to the process of actually identifying which publicly owned buildings should be deemed “heritage” – again with public input. Just a few ideas to kick around.

  11. Chuck says:

    That is a poor business model for the County and residents. It can be likened to a couple who sell their owned home, blow their capital and then rent their home back for the rest of their lives. Once Council spends the capital which won’t take long the taxpayer is on the hook for a huge lease for something they owned.

  12. Gary Mooney says:

    One approach used by both governments and private business is sale and leaseback. The owner sells the property to a third party, thereby freeing up its capital, then leases the property from the new owner and continues with its current use. The new owner earns investment income from the lease and is, of course, responsible for maintenance of the property.

    This would seem to be a reasonable middle ground for the County, which has a lot of capital tied up in buildings that it owns.

  13. gilles says:

    Anyone may attend the meetings of the Save Picton Town Hall group. Anyone can attend the Council Meetings at Shire Hall where this has been formally discussed. The Facebook page was established to gather together like-minded individuals and community groups (many already using the building) who believe it is wrong to sell this publicly owned asset to private developers.

  14. Marnie says:

    The $15. burgers – silvery!

  15. Marnie says:

    The burgers at Mark’s chip truck and the Acoustic Grill are just as good as those $15 numbers and a lot cheaper. You don’t have to earn $80,000. plus to eat well in the county.

  16. Emily says:

    Hey Welly, if you can’t make $80,000+ best get out of Prince Edward. I mean $15.00 Hamburgs and a $8.00 draft. Personally I am ok with it but I do realize that low income folks are left behind. I don’t know how they can afford the water bill. Who thought in Prince Edward surrounded by water that a basic need would take food off the table.

  17. WellyBoot says:

    I thought Greg Sorbara was a bad option, but now Michael Hymus has topped that. An upscale pub providing local wines and craft beers? What about locals who are tired of craft beers rearing their ugly heads all over the place? A skating rink and farmers’ market? Where? In the tiny parking lot? Far better a centre that meets community needs rather than pie-in-the-sky ideas. Stick to Treasure Street, Michael……that might work for the tourists.

  18. Regular Josephine says:

    Is a members-only Facebook clique the only option for information and organization?

  19. Dennis Fox says:

    Here is an alternative site to sell… how about that $600,000 convenience store in Wellington that Council purchased a couple of years ago? Surely that should go first.

  20. Chuck says:

    6 months from now we will have a lame duck Council that will not or should not be determining this issue just prior to an election. It is an election matter. And depending on the OMB decision we could have a quite different Council make-up. Perhaps even long awaited voter parity.

  21. Emily says:

    Why aren’t all of the County’s halls along with Mt Tabor up for sale? What am I missing here.

  22. Paul Cole says:

    Maybe a petition needs to be started so a Municipal Referendum can be held on this matter, council seems to not be listening to its constituents. There are many other properties that could be sold off that do not carry such Historical significance…

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