Further discussion tonight about proposed learning centre
By Liz Dadson
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Kincardine council spent a lot of time discussing the proposed learning centre in the old Westario Power building, but came to no conclusion at last week's meeting (Dec. 9).
So, it plans to discuss it some more at the council meeting tonight (Dec. 15).
In committee-of-the-whole, mayor Larry Kraemer relinquished the chair to deputy mayor Anne Eadie so he could talk to the issue. He is a member of the board of directors of the Lake Huron Learning Collaborative which wants to lease the old Westario building and bring post-secondary courses to Kincardine.
The collaborative has $500,000 in support from Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to put toward the expenses of launching and operating the learning centre over the next four years.
Kraemer explained that he received direction from council in November, 2009, to go ahead with plans for the learning centre and, with the financing from OPG, the municipality is able to charge half the rate it was charging Westario Power which equals $25,000/year.
Council, at that time, said it did not want to run the facility or pay the utilities, said Kraemer. So, the Learning Collaborative would lease and operate the learning centre, he said.
"There's no guarantee it will be successful, but it definitely won't be, if we don't try," said Kraemer. "We have the money in place. We should try a one-year lease and see how it goes."
Earlier this year, the major bone of contention with the former council was allowing the collaborative to lease the entire building, including the truck bays, for $25,000/year.
At the Dec. 9 meeting, councillor Mike Leggett pointed out that he and councillor Kenneth Craig had hammered out a deal with the collaborative. It took that agreement back to the board and it was refused.
"If they want a one-year lease for the whole building, we'll have to hammer out the details for that," he said, adding that the truck bays were not in the original lease which he and Craig negotiated.
Kraemer said the board rejected the offer because the cost to rent the truck bays area would be $57,000/year. The board would not make that commitment without contacting OPG, he said. "This is a non-profit organization and it's just looking for a fair deal."
Most of council, particularly the new councillors, wanted more information about the original lease, the deal hammered out by Leggett and Craig, and the reasons why the board refused it.
"In principle, we would be remiss to not support the expansion of education in Kincardine," said councillor Jacqueline Faubert. "However, I would like to see the minutes from the board, and see that refusal by the board."
She agreed a one-year lease would help the collaborative prove whether the learning centre could be a feasible operation.
In response to questions from the new councillors, chief administrative officer John deRosenroll said the community storage area would remain in the building for various groups who require storage. Also, the lower level of the building is used as a municipal operations centre in case of emergency situations.
Councillor Ron Coristine urged council to support this opportunity for post-secondary education in Kincardine. He asked how often the building has been rented over the past year. The answer was, it hasn't, because McKechnie Pharmacy was using the west end of the building until the medical clinic project was completed.
"I support we opt for $50,000 in revenue versus zero," said Coristine.
Leggett pointed out that once the entire building becomes an educational facility, taxes are owed on it.
"Yes, once it becomes a commercial use, it is fully taxable," said deRosenroll. "Taxes for half the building would be about $22,000."
Leggett said he does not recall having a discussion about the learning collaborative leasing the entire building.
"We okayed the post-secondary area but we were going to lease the trades area to OPG," he said. "I want to discuss this more before we make a decision. I'm not comfortable with a one-year lease for the whole building. The bays were not included."
Councillor Maureen Couture agreed, saying she wants to see a copy of the lease before making any decision on this, and a contract signed by the learning collaborative.
Coristine questioned how a non-profit group, such as the collaborative, is required to pay taxes on this facility.
If the group leased the whole building, said deRosenroll, it would pay the $22,000 in taxes and then receive a 40-per-cent charitable tax refund.
"The Legion pays taxes, and it's a non-profit organization," said Couture.
"If we're asking $25,000 for one part of the building and $57,000 for the other part, what's our contribution to education in Kincardine?" asked Kraemer. "If we need $75,000 for a building we rented to Westario Power for $50,000, what's missing?"
He noted that the e-learn network is not paying rent or utilities for its portion of the building, because it's included in the OPG partnership agreement. "We should try a one-year lease (with the collaborative) and see if it works."
Leggett reiterated that the municipality would receive $50,000 in annual revenue - $25,000 from OPG for the lease, and $25,000 from OPG for utilities. "I don't remember seeing those numbers when we were trying to hammer out a deal with the collaborative," he said.
Craig said council is discussing the original lease, not the one that was sent to the collaborative and refused by its board.
Couture suggested having staff draft an agreement, with Leggett's input because he has the history of the issue, based on Kraemer's proposal, and bring it back to the council table for discussion.
"I agree," said Faubert. "I want to see the paperwork - why that deal was refused by the Lake Huron Learning Collaborative."
Council agreed to have more information presented at the next council meeting, and discuss this lease further at that time, which is tonight (Dec. 15).
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010