Discussion around funding the EDCNS (Economic Development Corporation of North Simcoe), and specifically their desire to cut funding to the shared four-municipality partner and save ratepayers some money, left some on Penetanguishene council with a bad taste in their mouths.
At the 2023 budget discussions for Penetanguishene, council approved a financial request for $83,500 for EDCNS as part of various boards and committees requesting funds from the town; the not-for-profit organization had made similar requests to Midland, and the townships of Tay and Tiny.
However and despite a presentation to councils by EDCNS staff throughout the winter budget processes, the other neighbouring municipalities showed their reservations through the amounts budgeted for EDCNS. Midland cut funding by 50 per cent to just $84,000; Tay loosely pitched the idea of monthly installments for the request of $67,980 but will return later this month for further budget talks; Tiny approved funding an $87,000 request with 50 per cent approved and the remainder pending the funding of other municipalities.
The motion before Penetanguishene council requested a freeze on the $83,500 request unless six key items regarding a revised governance structure, a clear strategic plan and a transparent operating budget could be implemented by EDCNS by the end of September.
Council members in Penetanguishene shared concerns why the motion was presented by Mayor Doug Rawson when the budget had been passed in February. Rawson explained that he followed the procedural bylaw with due diligence, and it was right on the heels of the passed budget as a result.
“I’ve been appointed by this council to be the member of the EDCNS,” said Rawson. “I think we owe it to our municipality to ensure that every tax dollar is being spent, that we’re accountable for everything and that we’re seeing results for that.”
He stated, “During the budget process, I was asking and talking to the executive director (Suzanne McCrimmon) about some of these key pieces. We met as heads of councils – mayors and deputy mayors and CAOs – around the first or second week of January. This was the number one item on the agenda.
“I’ll tell you, between the mayors and deputy mayors, it was unanimous that there was no confidence in this organization. I would say from the CAOs perspective, it was almost unanimous.”
Councillors had been wary about the motion until Rawson explained that through repeated requests of McCrimmon, he had eventually received word of the organization’s reserves.
“The reason we said stop and seize their funding is because they’re sitting on a reserve fund right now of almost a half million dollars. They’re sitting on enough money that even without our grant this year – they don’t need our money this year… they can run,” said Rawson.
“They have (roughly $450,000, according to Rawson). I had to ask multiple times to get that, and it was hard to get that number from them. Multiple asks of the executive director, and I had to ask at two board meetings before they would fully give us that information. That gives alarm bells.”
La Rose added his concerns to Rawson’s while pointing out that the motion for a freeze had been given to McCrimmon in January, but nothing further was addressed.
“To have this motion ahead of them for a month? And they don’t even bother to throw it on the agenda? ‘We don’t care, we’re not listening, we’re not looking at it.’ It’s broken,” La Rose said.
“When they have close to a half million dollars – of our money that’s not getting used for the purposes we have given it to them – why would we even consider giving them any money until this was cleaned up or closed down?”
The discussion was enough to put several on council into a guarded position, siding with a partial freeze. Coun. George Vadeboncoeur proposed funding 75 per cent of the budgeted amount, citing that a six-month deadline for conditions would meet the end of the third quarter, and to get the remaining 25 per cent would be an incentive.
Rawson restated that he would rather see either no funding or full funding than to entertain a partially-funded amendment, but a majority sided with Vadeboncoeur’s proposal.
A recorded vote of 4-3 was carried on the 75 per cent allowance and 25 per cent conditional freeze: Coun. Bonita Desroches, Suzanne Marchand, Doug Leroux, and Vadeboncoeur voted in favour; Rawson, La Rose and Coun. Bill Waters voted opposed.
Desroches reiterated disappointment at the way the situation played out.
“It’s just bad timing all the way around,” said Desroches in the meeting. “I’m a little bit disappointed that the previous council would not have spoken up, because they would’ve known this turmoil was happening. For us to come in as a new council and have to deal with this is really unfair to us. It puts us in a really bad spot.”
Meetings of Penetanguishene council are held on the second Wednesday of each month, and can be watched live on Rogers TV cable 53, or on the Rogers TV website.
Archives of council meetings are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.
By Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Mar 13, 2023 at 12:53