During a Wednesday afternoon meeting of representatives of the nine municipal partners responsible for guaranteeing the $122-million Cassellholme redevelopment, a common theme emerged.
"We're fully supportive of the redevelopment of Cassellholme. We have concerns but we'd like to see the project go forward," said North Bay Mayor Al McDonald as he addressed a virtual meeting full of municipal mayors and chief administrative officers.
"We're paying 80 per cent of the bill," McDonald said, well over $85 million in advance. North Bay must guarantee its approximate 80 per cent share of the provincial portion of $65 million upfront. "Our concern is taking all the debt on our books. We don't want to guarantee the provincial portion."
McDonald presented the position of the City of North Bay and later — after a consensus among the partners was reached — of the group.
"I don't think anyone has come right out and say 'Don't do it.' They're looking for solutions," McDonald continued. "I think the overwhelming theme is no one wants to guarantee the debt."
East Ferris Mayor Pauline Rochefort co-chaired the meeting with McDonald. East Ferris holds the second-highest financial stake in the long-term care facility.
This section was added after publication for clarity: East Ferris CAO Jason Trottier later explained the provincial debt guarantee is shared among the nine municipalities and is based on the same percentage as the annual operating levy and capital levy requirement for the development. The levies are based on weighted assessment for taxation purposes.
Infrastructure Ontario has had six months to examine the project, said Rochefort and indicated the recent announcement of the tender could have been used as a ploy by the board to encourage the municipalities to get on board.
"We should not be pressured. We've been told that financing is up to us, the municipalities, and, frankly, we've not been involved in the financing. To me, it's been very recent."
With the mayors of Mattawa and Calvin absent due to prior commitments, all seven partner mayors present backed a motion presented by Trottier. The motion rejects guaranteeing the entire debt — including Ontario's estimated $65 million contribution — for the Cassellholme redevelopment and instead offers alternatives.
The motion requests the province commit to paying its portion up front — instead of over 25 years — which would eliminate the debt guarantee. Short of that option, the partner municipalities would then request the province guarantees its own share — plus interest — over 25 years.
McDonald indicated Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli is prepared to "go to bat for us," after recent conversations in which he shared with Fedeli the guarantee was the main sticking point.
"He hears the message — and he's been hearing it from the municipalities — that the guarantee is a real barrier," said McDonald.
Meanwhile, Fedeli says he will "continue to share the municipal issues with the Ministry and will continue to support the project in every way possible.
"Cassellholme is an important long-term care project for Nipissing, which is why the province has committed $65 million for its redevelopment," Fedeli states. "The province will continue to work with Cassellholme to get shovels in the ground, and encourage all municipalities to take advantage of the provincial funding and financing options."
At Thursday's Cassellholme meeting, the board of management is expected to rule on the request from the City of North Bay for an extension to advocate with the province and pursue alternate financing arrangements for up to 30 days.
The board has not ruled out levying the municipalities for their portions upfront as a means of advancing the project without further financial penalties from the contractor. A September target to renew talks with Infrastructure Ontario, the lender cited by many as having the lowest interest rates, has been cited by the board.