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Barrie councillors look to cut costs

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Barrie councillors failed to make a decision Monday on a new emergency services campus. City of Barrie image

Barrie councillors failed to make a decision Monday on a new emergency services campus. City of Barrie image

When push came to shove, city councillors blinked hard Monday on spending nearly $120.5 million on a new Barrie-Simcoe Emergency Services Campus.

A decision was delayed until mid-July, cutting into the summer break.

“It’s not a case of us getting cold feet,” said Coun. Mike McCann, who first asked for the delay. “This is really a reward versus risk type of scenario.

“It’s over a $100-million project. I don’t feel comfortable. I need further analysis ... to make a decision.”

The campus would house new Barrie police headquarters, the Barrie Fire and Emergency Service training facility and a Simcoe County paramedics hub – in a still-to-be revealed location.

Councillors asked staff Monday to look at a 10% cost reduction in the administration/operations facility, which houses police and paramedics, and phasing in the firefighting training/ police firearms range facility and the police vehicle maintenance, to find possible savings.

Mayor Jeff Lehman noted the need for a new police headquarters was identified a decade ago, and there’s still no decision.

“What I am concerned about is putting off the decision tonight,” he said, noting cost is at the centre of the indecision. “It’s a large number because it’s three projects.”

But Lehman said this approach could save the city $30 million.

“We are trying to save our taxpayers money by doing these projects together. The components of it are necessary,” he said.

“It’s not a matter of if, we need to move forward,” Coun. Arif Khan said. “Obviously it’s a huge price tag. This is a legacy decision we have to make. It's right in front of us. Are we going to do it or are we not?”

But there was great reluctance by some councillors to do anything but delay the campus Monday.

“I don't feel good with this project. I don't feel confident about this project,” McCann said. “Something is not right with me. So I'm not willing to spend $120 million.

“I'm looking to get the best cost savings possible. I've had a month to work on this, and I just need more time.”

“This project could be very successful, but on the other side of the coin it can be a disaster, for our corporation and for the taxpayers if we don't execute the project the right way,” Coun. Peter Silveira said.

“I'm hearing fear, is what I'm hearing,” Coun. Doug Shipley said. “Fear can't stop us from making our decisions, but sometimes you have to deal with fear to get over it.

“There's a bit of a fear of the big ticket, the big dollar. Are we doing the right thing?

Quite frankly there should be some fear. That is a lot of money.”

The updated $120.5-million cost includes not only construction of the police, fire department and paramedic campus, but land, design, project financing and soft costs, such as furniture and equipment, and project financing costs.

Other councillors said they'd like to have Michael Prowse, Barrie's new chief administrative officer, in place before a decision is made on the emergency services campus. He takes over from Carla Ladd on July 1.

Coun. Barry Ward isn't so sure what difference this will make.

“I guess I feel like we're going around in circles on this thing,” he said. “There seems to be this hope that we're going to get a new CAO and they're going to find new savings. Well the CAO takes direction from us.”

Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth said she has other reservations.

“I did have sticker shock,” she said of the cost. “I'm not sure where we are going to get the money, or leave the next council.”

Capital costs for the campus will be funded by development charges, taxes (either tax capital reserves or debentures, how municipalities borrow money) and the County of Simcoe. As a service partner to Simcoe County, the city will be responsible for 25% of the county's share.

Lehman has already said he's unhappy with the amount of this project that would be funded through debt.

Councillors met behind closed doors Monday night about buying land for the campus. A deal has not been finalized or completed, and no location has been made public for the project.

A this point, July 17 looks like the date councillors will next discuss the Barrie-Simcoe Emergency Services Campus - but that will depend on the availability of councillors.

The June 26 council meeting was to be the last before the summer break.

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