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Status of Powassan legion building takes centre stage in council debate

Powassan town council will have a detailed discussion on the future of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 453 building at its Tuesday council meeting
Powassan Legion building
A Powassan town councillor is shining a spotlight on the terms of the ongoing ownership of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 453 building in the community.

Powassan town council will have a detailed discussion on the future of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 453 building at its Tuesday council meeting.

Coun. Debbie Piekarski triggered the debate when she said the costs to the municipality and taxpayers to own, maintain and operate the building are exorbitant.

Piekarski wanted to know if it's possible for the municipality to extricate itself from the contract or renegotiate it.

The municipality owns the building just as it owns the Lions Club building.

Piekarski noted that although the municipality absorbs all the costs associated with the legion building, under the terms of the contract, “the legion is able to collect any rentals without any return to the municipality and that doesn't seem equitable.”

Piekarski suggested three options to her colleagues.

One was to turn the building ownership back to the legion and let Branch 453 operate it the way it did prior to any contract agreement with the municipality.

The second option was to sell it, with a condition that the new owner allows the legion to remain at the site.

The third option was for the municipality to create a payment structure for the legion building that is parallel to what the municipality currently pays to operate and maintain the Lions Club building, which Piekarski said was about $6,000 in 2020.

In contrast, figures she got from staff revealed the municipality spent nearly $34,000 on the legion building in 2020, although $10,000 of that amount went to putting in a new floor.

Piekarski said based on the life of the contract, which she believed was around 25 years, the municipality would spend about $1.6 million on the building.

“That's totally ridiculous because certainly, the building is not worth $1.6 million,” Piekarski said.

She said considering the municipality has a debt of about $8 million, “we really need to be conscious of how we spend our money and find ways to seek more revenue so we can address the concerns of the community.”

In response to a question from Coun. Markus Wand on how Piekarski arrived at the $1.6 million figure, Piekarski said she multiplied the cost incurred in 2020 by the 25 years.

However, Wand said that worked out to about $875,000 and Coun. Dave Britton added last year saw a one-time expenditure of $10,000 for the new floor, so it should not have been included in the long-term calculation.

Despite the discrepancy, council agreed there needed to be a discussion on the building's numbers.

“I (would) like to see the numbers,” Britton said.

“The legion has been a big part of this community for many years and it's pretty hard for me to make a decision without seeing the whole picture.”

Wand reminded council that the legion building serves as an emergency centre for the municipality, including Trout Creek.

“It's not just a building that the legion uses,” Wand said.

“It does have a significant purpose for the municipality should there be an emergency situation and the community needs to use the building.”

Wand said when the full discussion takes place, the conversation needs to include all the numbers, what the building is used for and whether the municipality has a plan for it in the future.

Acting mayor Randy Hall also had questions about the legion building.

“I've often thought that for the amount of money we're paying for the current building, I felt we could put the legion in a better place for the same amount of money,” Hall said.

He emphasized that any comments he made during the debate about the building should not to be construed as him being disrespectful to Branch 453.

The municipality has hired a new treasurer, who Hall said could develop a financial plan for the building in order to make it sustainable and stable.

Hall added at some point, the municipality needs to look at the other buildings it owns and create a plan and course of action for them also.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.