• John Jantak

St. Lazare residents ask council to rein in proposed $10 million town hall cost


PHOTO BY JOHN JANTAK

St. Lazare resident Bruce Waters told Mayor Robert Grimaudo and council the town should reconsider and revise the scope of its proposed $10 million town hall project saying the current price tag is excessive and will add to the financial strain many residential taxpayers are facing.

Several St. Lazare residents asked Mayor Robert Grimaudo and town councillors to reconsider and revise its plans for its proposed new town hall which has been pegged at $10 million during the Tuesday evening council meeting, December 1.

The issue was raised during question period when about 10 residents took turns behind the microphone to voice their concerns about what they feel is an unjustified extravagant price tag that residential taxpayers will have to foot during a period of austerity.

Opposition to the cost of the project comes just one week after the town held a registry signing that garnered 483 signatures opposing the loan by-law, just 17 short of the 500 signatures required that could have resulted in a municipal-wide referendum being held on the issue. As it stands now, the town can proceed with town hall loan by-law.

Resident Bruce Waters told council he’s concerned about the possibility that the $10 million loan amortized over 30 years at a proposed interest rate of 3.5 per cent could double or even triple the town’s current $12 million debt, especially if interest rates rise substantially in the future.

“The actual loan by-law is not determined at this point,” said Grimaudo. “They’re just estimates at this point. We are renegotiating certain loans right now at 2.5 per cent. It’s a 30-year loan but we can renegotiate the interest rate every five years and in some instances it could be every year.”

The actual cost of town hall has not yet been determined, but Grimaudo speculated the cost could be significantly less than the current estimate, saying the town was required to budget the maximum possible cost based on provincial government requirements.

Grimaudo used its new fire station as an example to showcase how the town’s original loan by-law estimate was substantially reduced when all factors related to the tendering process and provincial subsidies are taken into consideration.

“The provincial government forces us to always go to the worst-case scenario which is what we did,” said Grimaudo. “The reality is that even though we had a loan by-law of $5 million for the fire hall, the actual loan by-law will be around $2 million, which is substantially less than the original estimate.

“That’s because when we go to tender, the price comes down a bit. Then we find subsidies that the government can give us, so the actual cost is less than was originally estimated in the loan by-law,” Grimaudo added.

Waters and several other residents also complained the town lacked transparency, saying council didn’t do enough to properly inform residents about the registry signing and suggested that more people would have signed the registry if they had known about it.

“We did more than was required to advise our residents about the registry,” said Grimaudo. “Maybe we could have done more, but we did our best in the last three to four weeks to advise people about the registry.”

The mayor’s assertion didn’t sit well with some people who complained the town did more to promote its first Festival au Galop equestrian event last summer than informing residents about the registry signing. They also complained that information was not easily accessible or properly promoted on the town’s website.

“You have to educate your people,” said Waters. “When you have a $10 million project that might double or triple our debt and may skyrocket our taxes, you have a responsibility to your citizens to inform them and you bypassed it. I’m looking at all of you (council) and don’t understand how you can do this.”

“You’re absolutely right that we have a responsibility,” Grimaudo replied. “It’s for the welfare and well-being of St. Lazare residents. In the past three years, we’ve addressed our water issues, public security, fire hall, roads and other problems.

“Our responsibility is making sure that you’re safe, that you have good drinking water and good roads,” added Grimaudo. “I took the responsibility with the support of council to improve the town’s infrastructure and we’ve taken care of all our infrastructure issues.”

While a couple of citizens voiced their support for the town hall project, most in attendance were not swayed by Grimaudo’s explanations. They said taxpayers are already carrying a substantial financial burden as a result of all the town’s recent infrastructure projects and the town should consider scaling back the project to make it more affordable.

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Correction - In the December 3 edition of the Your Local Journal, the story about the proposed new hall for St. Lazare inadvertently reported that the town’s current long-term debt stands at about $12 million. The town’s long-term debt is actually $19,774,815 according to figures provided by the provincial MAMROT and confirmed by St. Lazare Executive Director Serge Tremblay at the last council meeting. Your Local Journal regrets the error.

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