Council closes book on library fiscal impact study

It took some slight of hand procedural maneuvering to strike down a councillor’s request for a review of the impact Fergus’ library renovations are having on downtown businesses.

Centre Wellington council dealt with the notice of motion from councillor Kelly Linton at its meeting here on July 2. Linton wanted council to consider conducting a fiscal impact assessment together with Wellington County six months after the completion of library renovations.

“A primary objective of this study will be to determine what, if any, actions should be taken by the township and/or the county to address the potential negative impacts of the Fergus library expansion project on downtown Fergus businesses,” part of the notice of motion stated.

The notice was seconded by councillor Steven VanLeeuwen to get it to the council table.

It was immediately countered by a motion from councillor Mary Lloyd calling for a vote on it which was seconded by councillor Walt Visser. Joined by mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj and councillor Fred Morris, the four voted that the motion not move forward, effectively cutting off discussion and stopping it from moving ahead.

The move angered both Linton and VanLeeuwen who felt the issue should have been discussed and questions raised.

However, Lloyd said an impact study had already been conducted prior to the start of the renovations and she felt it was not necessary to do again.

“I believe we’re moving forward with a visionary look at how we want to see our community going for the next 50 years,” Lloyd told the Advertiser after the meeting.

The mayor agreed that the motion did not warrant discussion by council.  

Council, late last year, turned down a petition against the project and Ross-Zuj said the majority of council felt it wasn’t necessary to conduct another fiscal assessment after one was done when the library expansion was in the planning stages.

“The whole thing was saying the county didn’t do its work,” Ross Zuj said of the Linton notice of motion. “That petition came to council and was debated and voted down.”

According to the mayor, council reviewed concerns raised about the project as a county responsibility and eventually supported the work.

“I must admit I was a little shocked at the process chosen last night to shut down any discussion on a motion made by councillor Linton,” VanLeeuwen said in an email to the Advertiser after the vote.  “The unfortunate part about our process is that without the motion receiving a first and seconder we can not even discuss the pros and cons to the said motion. I came to the meeting with an open

mind and some questions and concerns that I had about the desired outcome of the motion. I seconded the motion in order to allow such questions to be asked and therefore bring me to an informed decision.

Questions like:

– What would the cost to the township be for this consultant?;

– Would the consultant be able to determine that the negative financial impact to the business was generated by the library project alone?; and

– If there was found to be a negative impact from the project what would our next steps be?

“It appears that these question will not be answered and apparently there was no desire to make any type of informed decision on this motion by council. Council is about debating such things to come to a good decision. This type of maneuvering within the council chambers is uncalled for,” VanLeeuwen added.

“I was disappointed not to get an opportunity to discuss my motion at council,” a visibly angry Linton said after the meeting.

“At last night’s council session, I discovered what lengths some members of council will go to avoid a discussion they find uncomfortable. The reason I introduced this motion is because I have been getting numerous inquiries and concerns from downtown Fergus merchants and property owners who are beginning to experience some negative impacts from the Fergus library expansion project. While some of these are related to short-term construction pains, many are related to the loss of customer parking and limited access to the rear of their buildings. These issues won’t go away when the shiny, new library opens its doors,” Linton said in an email to the Advertiser. “Councillor VanLeeuwen seconded my motion which should have triggered a full discussion. But not so fast … before any discussion could take place, councillor Lloyd immediately introduced a motion to fast forward to vote on my motion to avoid any discussion!  The mayor, councillor Morris and councillor Visser’s hands shot up in unison to support councillor Lloyd. The whole thing seemed like a well-rehearsed, synchronized swimming performance. At this point, my head is spinning and I called a ‘point of order’ asking the clerk ‘What the heck is going on here?’ (not sure if I said ‘heck’) The answer I received from the mayor was as clear as mud. So … the takeaway for me is that these members of council will not hesitate to use procedural games to limit healthy debate on things they don’t like. Is that the kind of leadership our town needs?”

The mayor said concerns raised about problems that might arise while construction is underway are “typical” for any building project. She said a committee meets weekly with businesses to hear complaints and appraise them about how work is progressing.

“I have never seen the county so diligently addressing every issue with the businesses downtown,” Ross Zuj said.

The library work is expected to be completed by November.

Councillor Kirk McElwain was absent from the meeting.