Brunel Hall is a profitable asset that the Town should not sell: Tim Withey, opinion

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Since the last election I’ve been relatively quiet about the goings on in Town Hall but the recent decision at General Committee last week concerning the sale of Brunel Hall to the Montessori School has compelled me speak up.

When I was fortunate enough to get elected as the representative of Brunel Ward, in the fall of 2010, I immediately inherited the role as Chair of the Brunel Hall Board. I assembled the committee members, a group of volunteers from Brunel ward, to deal with the issues as stewards of the monthly rent and issues involving upkeep and improvements to the Hall.

There were two bank accounts associated with this Board and both had very sizable amounts of money in them. It was explained to me that as compensation to the residents of the Ward for giving up their community hall, that they would benefit from some of the income realized from the Montessori lease. One of the accounts was the Locks Beautification Fund. Each year we would front the town money to plant the flowers, cut the grass and any other beautification projects at the Brunel Locks. Whatever was unused by the Town that season would be returned to this fund for the future.

The other fund went to pay for improvements in the Ward. Public docks, the field house building at Conroy Park, and the very popular annual free Canada Day BBQ at the Locks, were some of the benefits paid for with this fund. Some, but not all, of the maintenance costs came out of the general town coffers as they did for every other hall in the municipality and we would work with the Montessori folks on other improvements the school wanted to make. This had all been set up by my predecessor Mike Greaves and in my opinion worked very well.

This property was always in the black and benefited the community as a whole. Yes, there have been a couple of recent large projects at the Hall that cost the town significant funds, but they are complete now and in a few short years of collecting rent the deficit will be eliminated and we will again begin to accumulate money.

When I hear the same old political line “The town should not be in the business of _________” (fill in the blank), it diminishes the debate to a catch phrase and it drives me crazy. A business decision should be made here with all of the facts and figures front and centre.

When Dan Armour was elected Brunel Ward Councillor in 2014 I passed on the files and information assuming he would be picking up the torch of Brunel Hall Chair. Much to my surprise the committee was immediately disbanded, along with the Canada Day celebration and any chance for other improvements around the Ward. No explanation was given.

There are lots of things you could argue that the town should not be in the business of (Greenbug Energy comes to mind!) but each scenario deserves to be analyzed on its own merit with all the facts and figures. To sell this asset for basically the amount of the current debt, which would be eliminated on its own as outlined above, is a big mistake. Whether you agree that the revenue should be used in the same way as it was in the past, or not, it is revenue nonetheless. That money could be put it into general revenues, added to reserves or used to fill pot holes. I’m sure there wouldn’t be any shortage of ideas on how to spend it!

To me, in making this decision council is giving away one of the true generators of positive income the town has. Mike Greaves and I didn’t agree on a lot of things, but on this one we were in lock step all the way.

Tim WitheyTim is the President of Withey Insurance Brokers in Huntsville and a former Brunel Ward councillor. He served as Chair of the Brunel Hall Board and Chair of Community Services from 2010 through 2014. As Tim puts it, he ran a rather spectacularly unsuccessful campaign for mayor in the last municipal election. He is currently at peace with it all except when the spirit moves him to comment on current events. He is a tireless advocate for local healthcare and sits on the Fairvern redevelopment committee.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Jeannine Colvin on

    Lots of good points made by someone in the know,who has much knowledge of this file. I hope our elected officials take this into consideration before making a decision.

  2. I will keep my remarks to the absolute minimum, as Mr. Withey seems to be upset with them; disproportionately to their length. It is my understanding that it is far too late to put the genie back into the lamp. Apparently, the Town offered to sell the Hall to the School for $2.00. Subsequently, they changed the cost to some $55,000, but the School wished to amortize it at $400 per month. The offer then morphed into a lump sum for the full amount.

    That being said, from the inception of the $2.00 offer, a verbal contract existed; and despite all the financial stumbling blocks placed in the School’s path since that time, the offer to sell remains firmly intact.

  3. Agree with you Tim. A for profit company got a really good deal. Reminds me of the time Council gave $5000 dollars to a water bottling company out of some misplaced sympathy. When governments sell off taxpayer assets for short term debt relief it often proves costly in the future. 407 and quite probably the mismanaged Power Generation of this Province are examples. PS : It was Det and I who voted against the 5 grand gift !

    • Lela Shepley-Gamble on

      Hi, Bill – The Muskoka Montessori School is a non-profit, charitable organization. Please see the comment I posted on October 5, 2016 under Hugh Mackenzie’s original Opinion piece which was published by The Doppler on October 2, 2016.

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