A drawing of the new firehall proposed for Cumberland. Image, Finlayson Bonet Architecture/MKM Projects

Cumberland tackles funding for wastewater site, firehall

Council has concerns about depleted reserves, borrowing levels

Cumberland is taking on two large infrastructure projects: a new wastewater treatment plant and a new firehall.

The projects have been on the agenda for some time, but Monday night council made decisions around how these two should be funded.

In the case of the wastewater lagoon, staff presented council with three options that consider methods of paying such as funds from development cost charge (DCC) reserves, borrowing or levying a parcel tax. In the end, council supported a motion leaning toward the option to fund the project internally with some borrowing as well as maximizing available grant funding. Other options include funding internally with no borrowing or levying a parcel tax over a 20-year debt term.

As a staff report indicates, the Village had received more than $7 million from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program for the upgrade. The 2019 approved budget of $5.6 million was to cover phase one. With approval of more than three-quarters of the funding now, the complete project, worth $9.7 million, can move forward.

“That put us into a position to complete the entire project,” CFO and Deputy CAO Michelle Mason told council.

RELATED STORY: Cumberland fined for wastewater non-compliance issues

The Village has seen an increase in DCC funds due to private land development. This has led to the situation where it can fully fund the project using internal funds and grants, though this would deplete most of the sewer DCC funds. That leaves parcel taxes to cover the municipal share.

As for the firehall, council heard a presentation from Kyle Schick of Finlayson Bonet Architecture and Jordan Almond of MKM Projects. Schick compared the plans with similar designs for regional districts, saying the firehall represented more building for less money.

“You’re getting one of the best designs,” he said, adding, “That’s a totally biased statement.”

He credited working with Almond to manage the project from the outset to help give everyone a better idea of what is needed and subsequent costs of the facility.

Almond recommended expediency, saying it was important to have direction on this by the end of the year, to help keep costs from rising.

“We’re on target,” he said. “The sooner we get going on a tender, the better outcomes we’ll have.”

The project still comes with a budget estimated at $4.2 million. Staff recommended long-term rather than short-term borrowing for financing. Council directed staff to start an alternate approval process (AAP) to get voter consent on a bylaw for borrowing, as opposed to going to referendum. Through the AAP, a minimum of 10 per cent of voters must write local government to express opposition for a proposal to be defeated, which would require a subsequent referendum to move forward.

RELATED STORY: New Cumberland fire engine long overdue, says fire chief

Fire chief Mike Williamson highlighted some of the reasons for the project. He explained the department needs a facility that allows them to cover their equipment, especially if they add a ladder truck in the future as the community grows. There are concerns about the stability of the building itself.

“Our firehall right now is totally inadequate,” he said. “This was like a shed compared to the new standards.”

Coun. Jesse Ketler did not question the need for either project but had concerns around whether the Village was leaving itself vulnerable should it face a need to find funds for unforeseen infrastructure demands in the future. With the firehall, she expressed concern about the debt load.

“We’ve never borrowed that much for any project,” she said, adding the Village currently does not have a full-time CAO. “I really think we should take a breath.”

While Ketler provided the only opposing vote, others on council did share concerns. They ultimately voted in favour, saying that the wastewater lagoon was necessary to prevent the Village from continual fines from the Province and that the firehall also has to be brought up to date.

“We need to take the jump and do this,” said Mayor Leslie Baird.

There were also concerns about staff time, though staff responded the firehall, if approved, could be built through next year while the wastewater facility will still likely be waiting for design approval.



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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