It wasn't an outright rejection of the City of North Bay's recent proposal but the Cassellholme Board of Management voted at a special meeting, Tuesday, to move the $121-million redevelopment project forward while also pledging to work in concert on a proposal to turn ownership and management of the non-profit long-term care facility over to its largest partner.
Following a lengthy in-camera session, the board emerged and promptly voted 4-1 in favour of the resolution. Board Chair and North Bay Coun. Chris Mayne had announced he hoped the resolution would receive unanimous support. The board's newest member, a clearly exasperated Coun. Dave Mendicino was the lone vote against. A former chair of this very board, Mendicino's involvement with the proposed redevelopment dates back many years.
Mendicino said last week in support of the proposal from North Bay, "I certainly feel this helps move the project forward with financing and it gives staff direction about beginning discussions with Cassellholme about transitioning to a municipal home."
There is a Thursday deadline for the Infrastructure Ontario financing option and if it passes, all financial arrangements and approvals will be suspended until the new year, due to the holidays.
“We were worried it might come to this,” said Cassellholme CEO Jamie Lowery, “so we had BDO canvass bridge financing choices and secure the best bridge financing option for the municipalities in the off chance we are unable to meet the IO deadline. A delay could potentially increase the cost of the project but bridge financing means Cassellholme can meet obligations with the contractor.”
Lowery added, “Bridge financing protects the municipalities from liability for any lost profit, and other costs, the contractor could sue for if funding isn’t secured. This has all been known previously.”
Regardless of what the municipalities decide about financing, Cassellholme sent out notices in November and those levies are due Jan. 10, 2022.
Prior to the vote, Mayne proposed what he termed a "friendly amendment." In speaking with North Bay Mayor Al McDonald, who has taken the lead in representing the group of mayors from the partner municipalities, Mayne advised "we are trying to get consensus on everything at this point. We agreed to add one sentence: 'The Board commits to working constructively with the City of North Bay to provide relevant and helpful information towards a potential change from a district to a municipal long-term care home.' The keyword there is 'potential,'" Mayne noted.
"This is something the City of North Bay proposed as an idea," he continued. "There will certainly be a lot of discussions and the City will need a lot of information and help from Cassellholme," to make municipal ownership a reality. "I've assured Mayor McDonald we'd be glad to help with that.
"Once the City has all the information — including the costs and responsibilities — they may or may not decide to move forward. Ultimately, our responsibility as a board is to ensure that the standard of care at Cassellholme is maintained or improved, regardless of the model."
Last week, by way of a unanimous vote, North Bay City Council endorsed the possibility of Cassellholme eventually becoming a municipal asset in concert with the City's endorsement of the project’s financing arrangement through Infrastructure Ontario (IO).
Lowery stated via a media release, “The ownership question should be treated as a separate process so that the new build can proceed.”
There are several moving parts to the proposal from the City of North Bay. The partner municipalities, in exchange for their support for the financing agreement, would have their way out of the consortium and the future operating costs of Cassellholme and the North Bay would be left to solely own Cassellholme as a municipal asset, instead of paying into Cassellholme and having nothing to show for it on the municipal books, as a debt liability.
“We provided all the municipalities with financing options long ago,” Lowery continued. “Each municipality was asked to indicate their preference. Only the City of North Bay has done so to date and their approval to move forward with Infrastructure Ontario financing was delivered with strings attached.”
Lowery said those “strings” include the unconditional and wholesale turnover of Cassellholme to the City of North Bay in return for agreeing to the IO option. However, he said, the City’s motion does not address the need for broad consultation in regard to their proposal.
“We truly appreciate the City is looking for a path forward,” added Mayne. “Today, our board has taken steps to keep the momentum of goodwill going.
“We fundamentally have no objection to the City’s proposition, however, to make changes such as those proposed requires an amendment to provincial legislation governing such matters. There is no possible way that’s happening anytime soon," with Queen's Park in winter recess, and a provincial election looming. There is “literally no one to talk to about such a scenario,” he explained.
“Any ownership and management changes must give ample consideration to the safety and care of residents,” added Sherry Culling, a provincially appointed Cassellholme board member. Only the Ministry can review and consider any such request and only the Legislature can deal with it.
“As we have not received any communication from the other partner municipalities, it is not clear if they agree with or reject the terms the City of North Bay has put forward.” Lowery offered.
The resolution adopted by the Cassellholme board calls on the City of North Bay to provide a more clearly detailed plan about its restructuring proposal. The board also said any such undertaking must include, among other things, a fulsome community consultation process and consideration for the potential impacts on Cassellholme residents.
In the interim, Cassellholme will move forward with the much-needed redevelopment.
“We have said all along IO financing is the least costly, and overall, best option. We are happy the City wants to take advantage of it,” said Mayne. “Our motion simply says, let’s get the financing part done and we can look at the City’s idea later.”