St. Lazare Town Hall project to go ahead following November 24 registry
PHOTO COURTESY VILLE DE ST. LAZARE
A total of 483 residents showed up November 24 to sign St. Lazare’s registry against the $9.4 million loan by-law for the new proposed Town Hall, a few vote short of the 500 signatures that would have been required to oppose the by-law and either scrap the project, or send it into referendum. The town can therefore proceed and submit By-law 966 to the Ministère des Affaires Municipales for approval.
The proposed project has met opposition from some residents, mainly over cost. "I am not personally against the new town hall project, but as I've mentioned to various councillors, I am against the cost of the project," Marc-André Esculier said, a resident who has been very vocal about his disagreement over the project as proposed by the municipality. He also feels that the city is misrepresenting the interest paid on the loan. "[It's] a false image of reality, that over 30 years, the interest is going to be $5.2 million. I indicated to the town's Director of Finance that I didn't know a bank that would not expect to double its money over a 30-year loan. To pretend that interest will be 2.5 per cent for the next 30 years, I found was very pretentious and impossible." Esculier believes that the real cost will be $20 million or more. "No bank signs for 30 years," Esculier added. "It's always for five years. And to pretend that 2.5 per cent interest rate will remain for 30 years is ridiculous. No one can predict this."
"I don't know where he gets those numbers from," St. Lazare mayor Robert Grimaudo said regarding Esculier's estimates. "We have been completely transparent. We showed all the maximum costs. It won't cost $10 million, we know. But when we prepare a loan bylaw, MAMOT (Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l'Occupation du territoire) asks that we go for the maximum."
"We are spending $200,000 per year renting buildings that do not belong to us, because we don't have enough room. Over 30 years, plus interest, that's $8 million. People who are against the project for financial reasons, it's not for logical reasons," Grimaudo added.
Esculier feels that there are other less costly options to building a brand new city hall. "They have grandiose and luxurious visions," Esculier accused while Grimaudo stated, "the existing building no longer meets the requirements of the Quebec building code, and the employees can no longer work under those conditions." Esculier says that 25 per cent of the proposed new city hall is for community meeting space, which he feels should be removed from the project to reduce costs. "We also need to demolish the current city hall at a cost of $1.2 million, but if we build on another lot that already belongs to the city, we save $1.2 million." Esculier feels that adding on to the existing building is also a more feasible option. "There is room at the back," Esculier added. The municipality, however, has stated on its website that the current city hall building, "…cannot be renovated, changed or extended to meet these standards" (i.e., the standards set by the Quebec Construction Code).
"We gave it a good shot," commented resident Richard Meades who has been using his blog, Saint-Lazare Truth Serum (trappedinchalinevalley.tumblr.com), to help spread word regarding the project and the registry. While he feels the blog helped to raise awareness of the project and of the registry, he is of the opinion that the city did not advertise it sufficiently. "They announced it in the legal section of Première Edition in the French section only. Nothing in the English paper. The only reason it came out was because Marc-André [Esculier] and I read it."
"We have been fully transparent," Grimaudo responded. "We announced it in both French and English newspapers."
Even though the registry decision was a close one, Esculier still feels that an insufficient number of residents cared about the project. "If enough people cared, we would have had one or two thousand signatures."
Both Esculier and Meades are afraid that the project will results in an increase in municipal taxes. "It will increase municipal taxes, for sure," Grimaudo said. "Any large municipal project will increase taxes. Worse case scenario is sixty-three dollars."
Results of the registry as well as further details on the proposed project, including the presentation made during the November 21 information session can be found on the municipality of St. Lazare's website at ville.saint-lazare.qc.ca.