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City council supports downtown revitalization despite costs

Coun. Paul Carr (right) questions how the downtown revitalization could be brought back into budget while Coun. Jack Miller listens. Photo by Joseph Quigley. [1]

Coun. Paul Carr (right) questions how the downtown revitalization could be brought back into budget while Coun. Jack Miller listens. Photo by Joseph Quigley, QNet News

By Joseph Quigley [2]

BELLEVILLE – City council voted to move forward with the plan to complete Belleville’s downtown revitalization at Monday’s council meeting, despite the rising costs of the project.

The three-phase project, part of the Build Belleville [3] plan, was originally budgeted at $21 million. But rising construction prices seen in Stage 1 of the project, which is near completion, now put the project $10 million over budget. $7.5 million of the original budget remains for Stages 2 and 3 of downtown construction, but more funding will likely be needed to complete those stages as designed.

Several councillors have taken issue with the overruns the past few weeks, which led to Coun. Mitch Panciuk calling a vote to direct staff to keep the next stages of the project within the original budget.

The motion was defeated 6-3: Mayor Taso Christopher and councillors Jack Miller, Jackie Denyes, Garnet Thompson, Mike Graham, and Egerton Boyce voted against the motion while councillors Panciuk, Paul Carr and Kelly McCaw voted to support it.

Panciuk said that he was disappointed the motion was not passed, but said he will continue to advocate for citizens worried about the price of the project.

“What I’m hearing is concern that the project is out of control from a spending point of view and that we don’t seem to have a proper handle on what the costs are going to be,” he said. “I will continue to raise the concerns that the residents are bringing up to me. We all want to see a good strong downtown but not at an unlimited price.”

On Monday, the discussion on downtown revitalization began with a new report [4]from city staff outlining what the next stages of the project would look like if limited to its original budget. It says that approximately 56 per cent of the remaining section of Front Street could be completed within that budget, representing Front Street from south of Victoria Avenue to just south of Century Place.

But the report also notes that the scope of the work planned would have to be significantly downsized to keep within the original budget.

Carr questioned if council could find a way to bring the project back into budget.

“We’re nowhere near the finish line and we’re running out of money. My concern is – what’s the bottom line?” asked Carr. “When do we say that we use that money that we have dedicated and add all those components that need to be added (to the downtown) to finish the project on time and on budget?”

The mayor said that the project being over budget has nothing to do with extravagances.

“None of these projects have changed. None of these have bling,” said Christopher. “This is all infrastructure – water and sewers that the municipality needed. That’s why it was supported by the downtown. That’s why it was supported by the council. None of these are wants, these are needs. I shouldn’t be sitting here trying to justify this. This is the right thing to do.”

As discussion turned to voting on Panciuk’s motion, Graham explained why he would choose to vote against it.

“We cannot complete Phase 2 and Phase 3 at $21 million. I won’t support Panciuk’s motion because it’s impossible, we can’t do that,” said Graham.

After the motion was defeated by council, Miller stressed the importance of the project to the downtown and echoed Christopher’s sentiments.

“We’ve acknowledged that this isn’t going to meet the budget that we had hoped. We’re all disappointed in that,” said Miller. “Bottom line is, this work has to get done. This is not the type of work that’s wants – this is needs. Our job is to get this work done and do it within as tight a budget as is reasonable.”

Bids on the contract for Phase 2 of the downtown revitalization will be decided on early next year.

Here is a video report by Kate Shumakova [5] of QNet News: