BRUCEDALE – In front of the Marden library on Wellington Road 30, two municipal message boards stand in stark contrast.
The sign closest to the library flashes from one bright message to the next, with glowing white letters informing passersby about library programming. It’s modern and eye-catching.
It sports logos for both Wellington County and Guelph/Eramosa Township, but the sign belongs to the county.
The second sign could easily go unnoticed, though it is much taller than the fist. It’s made of thin sheets of wood and a metal base, all painted black. At times the board is left blank.
This one belongs to Guelph/Eramosa.
“I think it looks a little silly,” said Guelph/Eramosa councillor Corey Woods of the two different signs.
The township hoped to replace its modest trailer placard sign with a digital sign, and install four other digital signs throughout the township.
But once they received the price tag for the digital sign project, councilors voted to push back any plans of installing new signs until next year, in the hope of finding a more affordable bid.
Two bids for the project were submitted, with both companies bidding more than $500,000 to install five signs – almost double the project’s budget.
“I realize COVID put a wrench in the supply chain, but good grief, that’s a lot of money for a sign,” said councillor Bruce Dickieson. “To me it just seems exuberant.”
“I understand Wellington County paid $88,000” for each of their digital signs, said councillor Corey Woods, but the tenders for Guelph/Eramosa’s signs break down to $104,000 each.
“To me, $88,000 is a crazy price,” Woods said. “So to now say it’s $104,000 a sign, I think that’s just astronomically high.”
Chief administrative officer Ian Roger presented the tender bids to council and said staff recommends proceeding with replacing one sign now instead of all five.
But Woods said if it’s not a good price for five signs, then it’s not a good price for one sign either.
“I have nothing against the signs whatsoever,” said councillor Bruce Dickieson.
“I just think they’re taking advantage of us right now,” he said, referring to the two companies who bid on the project.
Councillor Mark Bouwmeester suggested deferring the project to a later date, and Mayor Chris White was quick to agree.
“There’s no panic here,” he said, but “at some point we need to get some of these signs,” because the existing signs are no longer succeeding in getting messages across.
White said the sign at the fire hall in Rockwood is the first priority.
“We need to get an electronic sign there – even for emergency purposes.”
Fire chief Jim Petrik said he understands council’s decision to delay the project, and agreed, “It’s definitely not an emergency.”
However, he did note clear messaging can be life-saving, especially when it comes to severe weather events.
“We’ve had difficulty with emergency communications in the event of significant weather events, etcetera, and being that the fire hall is one of the identified shelters with the big generator … messaging there is I think valuable and potentially life-saving,” Petrik said.
“It would be nice to have, to enhance our public education messaging from the fire department and enhanced visibility for that type of messaging,” he added, but he understands “the costs do seem to have escalated further than they should.
“We are happy to wait until it aligns better with the rest of the township’s initiatives,” he added. “It’s not a problem.”
White said the second priority is a digital sign by the Marden library, though it may not make sense to install a new one there, he noted.
Having a digital township sign so close to the county’s would be “government run amok,” he said, and instead, Guelph/Eramosa will ask Wellington County to use its sign.
The goal of the signs, White noted, is to improve communication with residents, and having one sign at the fire hall in Rockwood and then access to the Wellington sign in Marden, 20km southwest from Rockwood, would go a long way to increasing communications between the township and Guelph/Eramosa residents.
“Next summer we will go back out and have another look at these signs,” White said.
“If the price isn’t collapsing, we’re going to have to figure out how we are going to do this (have digital messaging in Rockwood and Marden).
“Of course, this being electronic, in the future saves you a lot of (work),” he added. “Anybody who’s ever done those signs with the letters, it’s not fun, especially in February.
“That said, we may be in a bit of a blip here,” due to the substantial price tags on the two bids for the project.
Funding for the digital signs is from a municipal modernization grant from the province. The money will be put aside for digital signs in the future, “unless something else comes along,” White noted.
“We will defer this to next summer to price it, and in the meantime we’ll talk to the county,” White said.
Council voted unanimously in favour of those suggestions.