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Saturday, August 13, 2022
Council OKs $1.5M for two major streetscape projects

The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake has approved spending about $1.5 milion for two streetscape enhancement projects on Niagara Stone Road in Virgil and on Glendale Avenue at York Road.

However, some councillors have raised concerns about spending money on the projects in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plans are time-sensitive and the Region of Niagara and the province required the town’s decision, interim chief administrative officer Sheldon Randall told councillors during a virtual council meeting last Tuesday.

One project, in collaboration with the region, involves streetscape improvements on Niagara Stone Road between Four Mile Creek Road and the Virgil urban boundary, northeast of Line 1 intersection. Construction is supposed to start in 2021.

The estimated cost is $1.1 million and includes street lighting, sidewalks and decorative features. The cost would be debentured over several years.

The other project, to redesign the Glendale QEW interchange, is a collaboration among the town, Region of Niagara and the Ministry of Transportation. Town staff recommended council approve proposed road enhancements in the Glendale Avenue and York Road area.

The cost-sharing estimate, including street lighting, landscaping and irrigation enhancements, is projected to be $334,000 plus taxes. That cost also would be debentured over several years and won’t impact the town's current capital budget program.

Coun. Erwin Wiens said Virgil has been neglected and it was a “legacy project” the town had “one shot at,” while Coun. Clare Cameron said there’s an opportunity to enhance an area that has been “underserved” for a long time.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero noted there will be financial assistance from the province as municipalities recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

“We will have a good opportunity from the province should we need it with our budget. I also believe that these projects are so important to our town and the future of our town that if we have to debenture in order to pay for them, that’s what we’ll have to do,” Disero said.

“The region will help us look for grants from the province on both of these projects to see our way through … I think we should be a little visionary at this point in terms of pushing this town forward with these projects.”

Coun. Stuart McCormack noted it was the “worst timing” to bring the project forward as the community is going through an “economic pandemic.”

The economic problems after the pandemic could be “potentially greater than the Great Depression,” he said. “Wonderful enhancements but the timing, in my opinion, could not be worse.”

Coun. Wendy Cheropita said they were “lovely projects” but said she couldn’t spend taxpayers’ money and borrow funds for projects in the middle of the pandemic.

“These are conditions we’ve never known before. We have to be diligent to make decisions given the situation we’re in right now,” she said at the meeting. “Our recovery isn’t going to happen in three years … We have to make different decisions today than we would’ve made two months ago.”

Under the Virgil project plan, the town would own and maintain sidewalks and decorative features like benches, litter receptacles, irrigation and plantings. The region would look after the street lights.

Annual maintainence would add about $133,000 to the town’s operating budget and require additional equipment at a cost of $35,000, town staff reported.

The money for street lighting in the Glendale area could come from raising the current annual street lighting base rate for all residents, while the costs for landscaping and irrigation enhancements could be derived from raising sections of the current park and recreation operating budget annually, according to a staff report.

Under that plan, the street lights that are now property of the town would be owned and maintainted by the region, while irrigation and landscaping features will become town’s assets.

“Working with the region to complete these enhancements in the Glendale area will create a visually enhanced streetscape, but will come at significant cost and increase in various budgets to finance the proposed debentures over several years,” staff reported.

The town won’t have to pay for the project until it is completed which is expected to be in December 2023.

McCormack said he didn’t see the project as a “critical infrastructure item” and said he didn't like committing to interest payments the next council would have to pay for.

“It’d be very easy to push it over to the next council as being their problem, but I do find it problematic,” McCormack said.

Councillors approved the Glendale project with three members – John Wiens, Cheropita and McCormack – opposed.

In a separate vote on the Virgil project, councillors vetoed a proposed illuminated steel arch estimated to cost $150,000, but approved the rest of the enhancements included in the staff report.