Editorial: Spending a lot to earn a little – again

South Dundas council voted September 25 in favour of a deal that will rent space at the Dundas County Archives building to a regional baseball club to store unused equipment over the winter months. This agreement, which will give the Seaway Surge use of the former medical clinic lobby area, is a great deal for the baseball club but follows a bad precedent already set by South Dundas councils of the past – spending a lot of money in the pursuit of earning a little.

Council supported the request from the baseball club, despite the recommendation against it by municipal administration. Director of Parks, Recreation, and Facilities David Jansen stated in his report that the archives building does not comply with the Ontario Building Code for multiple tenants in the space. The amount offered by the baseball club ($1,500 total) amounts to 50 cents per square foot for rent, $12.50 less than the current market rate for the area.

Council discussion, excluding mayor Jason Broad who declared a conflict of interest, supported deciding that earning a little money was better than earning no money. This follows a precedent set by previous councils, chasing little amounts of money, but having to spend a lot of money to secure those minimal funds.

During the 2014-18 council term, thousands were spent – continuing well into the next council term too – to bring the Carman House up to current code for a rental tenant. The amount of money spent far exceeded, and will always exceed, the amount of rent earned from that property. During the 2018-22 term of council, money was spent to buy multiple sheds for pop-up shops. Those buildings have never earned enough in transient rent to pay for buying the buildings. Those buildings now sit mostly unused by the Morrisburg Plaza.

In agreeing to rent space in a code-non-compliant building to a third party, South Dundas has now essentially agreed to bring that building up to code. The report before council last Monday estimated that this will cost $35,000 to do and given the current inflation in the construction market, it may cost more. Spending $35,000 to make $1,500 is not a good use of tax money.

There is a very good case for using public money for capital and operation costs or improvements by a municipality – when it is for the public good. Operating an arena which never recoups its costs from user groups is a public benefit. Renting space in the archives for a sports group to use as storage, and setting the municipality at odds again with the Ontario Building Code is not a public benefit.

Should council want to do something with the archives building that is a public benefit, it should look at expanding the DCA into more of the unused space as it is already bursting at the seams. Or council can spend the $35,000 to make it code compliant, converting the unused space into low-income or seniors rental housing. That is a public benefit many residents could get behind.

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