The municipality will move forward with its Heritage Grant Program.
Council approved the program in a recorded vote of 8–5 with councillors Brad Nieman, Dianne O’Brien, Roy Pennell, Jamie Forrester, and David Harrison voting in opposition.
Council earmarked $100,000 for heritage improvements through the municipal Community Improvement Plan during 2018 budget deliberations. The Heritage Grant Program is meant to encourage heritage conservation through financial incentives to help owners upgrade their properties.
Mayor Robert Quaiff was among those who supported the program. Noting concerns about moving forward with the grant program with an election coming, Quaiff said moving forward was the right decision.
“It is a commitment that this council made, not the new council that’s coming in,” he said. “We are not lame duck, we are still elected officials that were put around this horseshoe to make decisions on behalf of those that elected us and to think we shouldn’t be doing anything for four months because there’s an election looming is quite honestly disgusting.”
Councillor Lenny Epstein also supported the program, saying the grants only apply to properties that have been designated as heritage assets.
“They’ve already gone through the process of council saying this is a significant cultural asset to our community,” he said.
When properties have come up for designation in the past, he said, fellow councillors have argued that it shouldn’t be up to private landowners to do all the work alone.
“Here we are trying to come up with a program where we’re partnering with the owners of those buildings and putting our money where our mouth is and we’ve established that these are properties that are meaningful to us and to the stories of our community and we’d like to see them remain,” he said. “This is a way to help ensure that happens.”
The program will focus on rehabilitation and restoration of designated heritage structures. That includes structural improvements and repairs to ensure the long-term viability of the structure. Under the program applications would be submitted to the County by Nov. 30 of the calendar year. The applications would be reviewed and funds would be awarded conditionally pending a final inspection of the completed work. The program will be administered through municipal development services staff in co-ordination with the community development and finance departments.
Grants will be awarded under seven categories with grants not to exceed 50 per cent of the total project cost. Eligible works include building facade improvements to a property’s front or main facade with grants of up to $5,000 for for a one storey facade up to 10 metres in width or up to $7,500 for a two-storey facade or over 10 metres in width; rear or side wall facade improvements with grants of up to $5,000 per side/rear with a maximum of $7,500 total; structural improvements with grants of up to $5,000; heritage restoration to exteriors, foundations, and rood structures with grants of up to $4,000; interior rehabilitation with grants of up to $4,000 per unit to a maximum of $8,000; landscaping and property improvements with grants of up to $2,000; and signage improvements with grants of up to $1,500 with subsequent or replacement signage to a maximum of $1,000.
The program will not fund general maintenance, additions, or enlargements of designated heritage properties.
However, there were still several councillors who weren’t comfortable moving forward with the program at this point.
Pennell said he didn’t feel council should be spending the money with such a short time left before the next council takes over.
“I’m in favour of anything we can do toward heritage, but I do find it strange that we’re pretty close to the end of this term of council and, basically after July 27, I would think almost lame duck,” he said. “Why do we as council feel it is so important to get this money in the budget right away so we can spend it?”
He said an incoming council may way to add more money to the program or other changes.
O’Brien said she wouldn’t support disbursing public money to private landowners.
“I’m still opposed to this whole grant process for heritage,” she said. “…I just don’t like the idea of providing public money for private businesses and enterprises. I’m certainly in favour of heritage, but I cannot support this.”