North Bay Mayor Al McDonald spoke publicly for the first time since two major announcements last week on the status of the redevelopment of Cassellholme.
On the long-delayed long-term care project and the advocacy efforts by the municipalities McDonald says, "It's the municipalities paying the bill — in essence, it's really the citizens that are paying the bill — and we have a duty to do what we can to lessen the impact on taxes, and that's what we're trying to do. To go from $90 million to $122 million, and that's before any change orders come in, I mean, this project could hit $150 million for all we know."
First, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli got the ball rolling Friday, revealing Ontario — not the nine partner Cassellholme municipalities — would guarantee its portion of the loan for the $122-million project.
Then, bereft of any dithering, Cassellholme followed up Fedeli's online press event with its own media release."Removing the guarantee means the municipalities' last objection is off the table and we can get the project moving full steam ahead," Cassellholme CEO Jamie Lowery stated.
Despite the optimism from Lowery, remarks from McDonald given Monday suggest there is still work to be done despite having finally cleared one of the project's major hurdles.
"The guarantee was one of the major concerns but there are a number of major concerns that still need to be addressed," McDonald, an erstwhile director on the shrinking Cassellholme Board of Management, observes. "We have no problems making our payments, we just didn't want the debt on our books."
Eight of the municipal stakeholders — North Bay, East Ferris, South Algonquin, Chisholm, Mattawa, Mattawan, Calvin and Papineau–Cameron — balked at the financing arrangements from Infrastructure Ontario and its offer of a low fixed rate of interest over a 25-year term. Only Bonfield indicated it was prepared to move forward while taking on the province's share of the debt.
The Mayor says guaranteeing the provincial portion would have affected both the City's credit rating and borrowing power for capital projects moving forward. McDonald advises a significant point of contention was the rise in the project's cost from $90 million to $122 million overall.
"They told us they were comfortable with $90 million from the very beginning, and when we asked for a budget, they said, 'It is what it is.' Then, it came in at $122 million," of which the City of North Bay is responsible for 80 per cent, McDonald says. "We prepared our budgets on the $90 million. We actually put taxes in place so we could build the payment into the budgets so that we were ready to go. So, when they hit $122 million, obviously we didn't have the chance to add [millions more] into the budget."
Besides taking issue with the governance of the Cassellholme board, McDonald says another concern is that only one qualified company bid on the redevelopment. And, the City has questions about the feasibility and fairness to residents to undergo a five-year renovation with people living on-site.
"It's a very complicated build," McDonald expresses, "that has more than likely added to the cost. And, we don't know what their plan is to mitigate all those concerns for our seniors."
When asked whether meetings with Cassellholme can be fruitful after all of the acrimonies this year with the municipalities, McDonald pauses. He says the City of North Bay is prepared to sit down with Chair (and North Bay City Councillor) Chris Mayne and the board "to alleviate some of these concerns that we have."