City supports a housing project to keep seniors in town--but not an independent school to keep kids here

Sara Golling
By Sara Golling
March 13th, 2014

Your reporter attended the “Enema Awards” at the Charles Bailey on Saturday evening, and there witnessed Mayor Greg Granstrom doing a stint on stage, wearing red-and-black striped bloomers with a lacy corselet and a flouncy ruffled can-can skirt … so attending the council meetings on Monday evening was bound to be a bit of a let-down sartorially. 

Budget talk, continued

Council’s Committee-of-the-Whole meeting, called for 5:00 P.M. to enable Council members to ask questions about items in the budget, started somewhat later than scheduled because of an earlier meeting that went overtime, and then Council suffered a loss of quorum until 5:55.   Councillor Kathy Moore clarified a number of items;  Public Works Manager Darren Albo confirmed that the Dam Safety Audit is necessary. Moore questioned the $80,000 budget item for work on the Cook Avenue Park because Council has not yet had an in-depth discussion on parks, and wondered whether the City should sell it off; she moved a recommendation that the work be put off until Council has discussed parks.  Mayor Greg Granstrom stated that he wouldn’t support selling off parks.  Albo said the park gets a lot of use, and is one of only two ball parks in town.  Moore amended her recommendation to just put the work off until next year.  Councillor Kathy Wallace asked whether its condition, and the sluffing from the road, is worsening so that delaying the repairs and improvements would become  more expensive over time;   Councillor Jody Blomme commented that delaying the work felt too much like “passing the buck”.   Moore’s motion to recommend delaying the work failed.

Council then set the date for public consultations on the City’s budget:  April 2, 2014.  

There was still time left before the regular council meeting start time, so Council used it for an in camera session to discuss labour issues.

Regular Council Meeting:  Present were Mayor Granstrom and Councillors Moore, Wallace, Blomme, and Spearn.  Absent:  Councillors Thatcher and Fisher.

A delegation from the board of directors of Visions for Small Schools presented information and a video on the Seven Summits Centre for Learning:  to see the video, go to sevensummitslearning.com.   The delegation stressed that the Seven Summits Centre for Learning is an independent school, operated by a not-for-profit society with the aim of maintaining K-12 education in Rossland and that it is partially funded by the Ministry of Education; it is not a private school.  Partners are Self Design Learning Community, based in Nelson, and Red Mountain Academy.  The Centre has 36 students in its first year of operation, and is now accepting registrations for next year.  Beginning to outgrow its current premises, the Centre is unable to rent any of the extra space in the former Maclean Elementary School, now  L’ecole des Sept-sommets, because the School Board inserted a clause in the contract of sale to prevent Sept-sommets from renting or leasing space to any  independent school.  This means that gymnasium facilities are not available to the Centre at this time, and the board is seeking assistance from the City in finding more space so the Centre can grow its student population and expand programming. 

Wallace expressed reservations about “tax dollars going to this enterprise.”  The delegation responded that the Centre is not an “enterprise” but a not-for-profit educational organization, in the process of getting charitable status.   Spearn pointed out the value of the Centre to the community, and stated that even though education is a provincial mandate, and not a municipal one, she feels that the Centre is as worthy of City dollars as are many other organizations supported by the City.  Spearn asked whether the group has in mind any spaces in Rossland; the delegation mentioned the Annex, but the City doesn’t own it; the Miners’ Union Hall was also mentioned as a possibility.  Spearn, Moore, Blomme and Wallace all expressed shock and dismay at the clause School District 20 inserted into the sale of Maclean, preventing renting to the Centre, as Sept-sommets, the Centre and the community as a whole would all have benefited.

Esling Park Lodge Debt

Background(extremely abbreviated):  In 1997, the City of Rossland leased the land for a 60-year term to the Rossland Seniors Housing Society and the Society built Esling Park Lodge on it.  Construction was funded by a $2,575,500 first mortgage in 1997 from Sun Life Assurance Company, which the City guaranteed — this guarantee became a liability of the City.  The project ran short of funds, and in 1999 the City loaned $450,000 to the Society, interest free, to support the project. The City’s funds were secured by a second mortgage on the Lodge.  The City obtained the funds for this loan by borrowing the money from the Municipal Finance Authority (“MFA”) as a short-term loan.  Borrowing the money cost the City of Rossland $64,800 in interest charges; Rossland had to repay the whole loan to MFA in 2004, but the Society still owes the City $270,000.  The agreement with the Society says payment of the balance was due on January 1, 2014, but requires the City to “refinance” the loan “having regard to the financial circumstances of the Borrower”.

The request:  The Rossland Seniors Housing Society has asked the City to extend its loan of $270,000, interest-free, until 2039 — another 25 years.

The discussion:  Moore made a motion that the Rossland Seniors Housing Society be asked to begin paying monthly interest at the MFA rate, and be required to start making payments on the principal as well in 2039.  She noted that the City has already given very significant financial support to the project, that the City is losing money on this arrangement, and that the City needs to ensure that it grants benefits carefully.    Granstrom said he wasn’t in favour of charging the Society interest on the loan as he thinks the value of keeping seniors in the community is more important than the money.  Spearn noted that the City has already been very generous to the Rossland Seniors Housing Society, and she likes the idea of asking for interest payments;  she thinks the City has been inconsistent in granting benefits.

Granstrom asked what the interest rate would be in Moore’s motion, and considerable discussion ensued about various interest rates currently charged by MFA for different terms of loan; ultimately, Moore made a motion to refer the interest issue back to staff, and that motion passed.   Hunter will bring Council  a number of options.

Council went on to discuss how they should answer the 3 questions from Jim Gustafson seeking their thoughts on medical services in the region; and letters of support to the Provincial government for the Agricultural Land Reserve and an independent Agricultural Land Commission with judicial powers;  and the implications of the rapidly rising cost estimates for the river crossing of the sewage line;  and levels of remuneration for Regional District directors, and Rossland Council; and denied a request for Rossland Seniors for $100 to attend the Seniors’ games; and several other items, until Granstrom adjourned the meeting at 9:20 pm.  

 Your reporter walked home, and noted frost glistening on the streets.

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