KENILWORTH – The prospect of a new outdoor pool in Mount Forest appeared to dry up recently when township staff dove head-first into a discussion about the millions of dollars needed over the next decade ahead to keep other municipal infrastructure from breaking down.
Talk of a new outdoor pool in Mount Forest to replace the deteriorating Lion Roy Grant pool has been ongoing since at least 2016, with a report at the time estimating full replacement cost between $1.5 and $2 million.
The township’s 2018 recreation plan recommended replacement, and in 2019 a location at the Mount Forest and District Sports Complex was approved by council.
The latest costing estimate from last fall, accurate within 20 per cent, pegs a new pool at $5.3 million.
But that number may be too large for council to reconcile against the bleak financial reality that was reiterated by CAO Brooke Lambert.
The township’s asset management plan, last completed in 2021 by Brampton-based SLBC Advisory Services, revealed between 15 and 20 per cent of the township’s infrastructure was in poor or very poor condition.
The report suggested $38 million would be needed to pay for upgrades and expansion, and another $70 million for renewal work. To fund the work, yearly capital budgets would have to increase by an additional $4.9 million – from $11.6 million in 2019-21 to $16.5 million per year for 2022-31.
“The numbers are mind-boggling,” councillor Lisa Hern remarked at the time.
In a budget meeting on Feb. 21, township finance director Farhad Hossain said the township’s present capital spending will fall short by $49 million from what’s needed over the next decade.
As it is, the upkeep of current bridges, roads, sidewalks and equipment accounts for $117 million in the next 10 years.
Special tax levy suggested
Collaborating with operations director Matthew Aston and Hossain, the CAO presented council with a “go or no-go” decision point for the upcoming budget — to appear before council on March 20.
“As part of the  budget, a clear direction around the township’s financial contribution and fundraising target are required for staff to move forward,” Lambert told council.
“We really need this information in order to develop … and implement the work plan as it has been provided,” she added, referring to a working plan council approved, in principle, earlier this year.
Staff recommend an upper limit be set on the tax levy burden, establishing a fundraising target and potential grant funding, and making the work plan contingent on achieving financial milestones.
“[The] question is really what is the appropriate balance of township and community contributions?” Lambert said.
The CAO presented three financial options for discussion, but nothing concrete was hammered out at the meeting.
Lambert suggested a special tax levy dedicated to the project over one to four years be considered, and noted such a tactic was used to raise $250,000 for the Louise Marshall Hospital, which increased tax bills by $14.88 over four years.
However, depending on funding options, residents’ tax bills would increase upwards of several hundred dollars to just over $1,000 at the higher end.
The average tax bill in the township is currently $3,400, and is based on 2016 home price valuations.
Staff have recommended against going into debt for the pool.
Brook noted the township only has $10.6 million available of a total $16.1 million debt capacity.
Lambert asked rhetorically what the community can fundraise, and said a target needs to be set, with the potential for a professional campaign and external resources to be brought in.
Regardless, township staff are unable to support large-scale fundraising efforts, Lambert said, adding efforts need to be community driven.
Lambert lastly suggested holding off on putting a design out to tender until financial milestones are met, requiring a financial planning strategy with targets.
She emphasized a need for a flexible project schedule, and continued review of township priorities over time.
‘Quite a bit of dissatisfaction’
Councillor Sherry Burke, who also chairs an aquatics advisory committee tasked with fundraising for pool enhancements, said the committee has “really good ideas” but can’t possibly fundraise without knowing what they’re fundraising for.
“We don’t have a finalized concept, we don’t have a finalized price, and you can’t sell … a pool without somebody seeing what you’re selling,” she said.
Earlier in the meeting, Burke urged fellow councillors to meet with committee members to hear their frustrations.
“Unfortunately when this proposal and timeline [were] presented to the aquatics committee, I thought there would be some satisfaction and actually there was quite a bit of dissatisfaction,” she said of the working plan.
“They should have been part of the discussion before that [plan] was put in front of council.”
The committee reviewed the working plan at its Feb. 7 meeting, 22 days after it was endorsed by council.
In an email to the Advertiser, Burke wrote members discussed how the plan may complicate fundraising efforts.
“Since 2019, [the committee] has been asking for a design concept,” Burke wrote.
Concepts were finally presented last year, but have since been scaled back, Burke said, removing enhancements the committee was tasked with fundraising for.
Mayor Andy Lennox said staff’s report lays out “some fairly daunting number scenarios and difficult priority-setting decisions that council is going to have to make.”