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Quarter-million in unspent cash found in old City Hall accounts

Failed, uncompleted, never-realized projects include a 2007 trade mission to Italy that never got off the ground
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Sault Ste. Marie City Council voted last night to claw back more than a quarter-million dollars sitting unspent for up to a dozen years in old economic development accounts.

Councillors agreed to cancel six projects: two from 2007, two from 2010 and a pair from 2014.

$264,500 languishing in the old accounts will now be re-allocated to unspecified "current economic development fund priorities," says Shelley Schell, the city's treasurer and chief financial officer. 

Each year, the city allocates $500,000 to its economic development fund, which Schell says is often used to leverage additional funding from other levels of government.

"Not all projects reach fruition, Schell said in a report to Mayor Provenzano and City Council.

The following are Schell's descriptions of the projects cancelled last night:

  • New airport carrier (approved 2007 05 14) $29,500: Funds were requested by the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) to offer an airline incentive funding for three years. The project timeline has expired and funds were not utilized
  • Web portal (approved 2007 03 12) $20,000: These funds were to be used to support the sustainability of the operation of an immigration web portal for the City of Sault Ste. Marie in the 3rd and 4th year of operation. Additional funding was received from the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration for the project so the request was not required
  • Italy trade mission (approved 2010 05 10) $25,000: The trade mission planned for September 18-30, 2010 did not occur. Mission was to include 18 delegation participants with funding to be used towards costs such as business-to-business matchmaking services and collateral/marketing/promotional material
  • Conference and special events budget enhancement (approved 2010 09 13) $80,000: Request was made by the city’s conference and special events committee and Tourism SSM to enhance the ability to compete with other major centres until the 2011 budget request would be reviewed (budget remained at $20,000). Funds were not utilized. On 2016 05 13 council approved re-allocating the funds for the 2018 Ontario Winter Games bid. The bid was not successful
  • Canal District development (approved 2014 12 15) $60,000: Contributing partners to this development application are no longer associated with the property development. The project plan was to be completed by February, 2015 and communications strategy by March, 2016. Deadlines were not achieved. Project as described in the application did not proceed. New applications would be required to commit the funds to an alternative project for this site
  • Sustainable growth and development stewardship strategy (approved 2014 12 15) $50,000: EDC was the applicant and project lead to “enable design and development of strategic planning process for undertaking in consultation and advice from leadership of those organizations identified as key community stakeholders.” Timelines included consultation to be completed by April, 2015 and a report to council with recommendations and action plan May, 2015. No reporting occurred and appears that project funding leverage with other agencies did not materialize

Ward 1 Coun. Paul Christian was bothered that it seemed to take so long to reclaim cash from projects that weren't going anywhere.

"If you look at the dates of approval, it looks like these things have been sitting for years," Christian told Schell.

"Is there that much of a lapse between when these things were cancelled and now that we're trying to recoup this money?" he asked.

Schell acknowledged that some of the projects are very old.

"There was follow-up done two years ago and for a lot of these projects it was indicated: 'Oh, no. We're applying for additional funding. We're going to leverage some of these. They're still ongoing.' I've re-assessed them again and nothing's happened in that two-year lapse so now it's being cancelled," she said.

Christian said the city needs to ensure that money allocated to projects that are subsequently delayed doesn't sit in limbo.

Councillors also agreed last night to provide $26,000 over three years from the economic development fund to allow Ontario North Economic Development Corp. to help in delivering the next phase of the Northern Ontario Exports Program.

The following are unrelated resolutions that were approved by City Council:

Infrastructure funding - twin-pad ice rink at Northern Community Centre

Mover: Councillor C. Gardi
Seconder: Councillor M. Shoemaker

Whereas in June 2018 Canada and Ontario signed a bilateral agreement for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP); and

Whereas the ICIP sees $10.37 billion earmarked for projects in Ontario including funding streams for public transit; green infrastructure; community, cultural and recreation infrastructure; and rural and northern communities infrastructure; and

Whereas the application process for the earmarked funding sees a municipality declare a project as a priority, then provides that declaration to the orovince, who reviews the application and, if agreeable to it, recommends the project for funding to the federal government which then considers the project and approves or denies the funding; and

Whereas the ICIP requires the province to open the application process before the federal government can determine whether to fund a project; and

Whereas the province has not yet opened the application process for the community, cultural and recreational infrastructure or green infrastructure funding streams; and

Whereas the development of a twin-pad ice rink at the Northern Community Centre is the City’s top recreational infrastructure priority; and

Whereas the City of Sault Ste. Marie intends to apply for funding through the community, cultural and recreational infrastructure stream for the development of the twin-pad ice rink at the Northern Community Centre when the application process is opened by the province;

Now therefore be it resolved that the city urges the province of Ontario to open the community, cultural and recreation infrastructure funding stream under the ICIP for the benefit of municipalities all across Ontario;

Be it further resolved that Mayor Christian Provenzano be requested to forward a copy of this resolution to the premier of Ontario, the minister of infrastructure and Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano.

Health Unit

Mover: Councillor M. Shoemaker
Seconder: Councillor C. Gardi

Whereas the Province of Ontario has recently announced a plan to merge various public health agencies across Ontario to reduce the total number of health units from 35 down to 10; and

Whereas the province’s proposal would see Algoma Public Health merge with the Sudbury Public Health Unit, the North Bay-Parry Sound Public Health Unit, the Nipissing Health Unit, the Timiskaming and Porcupine Health Unit and the Simcoe Muskoka Public Health Unit; and

Whereas details remain scant about the merger plan; and

Whereas the City of Sault Ste. Marie levies 25 per cent of the Algoma Public Health Unit’s annual budget and appoints half of Algoma Public Health’s board of directors; and

Whereas the City of Sault Ste. Marie is concerned that a merger of health units may result in a reduction in employment in the City of Sault Ste. Marie, but no corresponding reduction in financial obligation by the City of Sault Ste. Marie to the public health of its citizenry; and

Whereas Algoma Public Health operates out of a new, modern, large, purpose-built space on Willow Avenue in the City of Sault Ste. Marie;

Now therefore be it resolved that the City of Sault Ste. Marie express to the Province of Ontario that, unless there is a reduction in the municipality’s requirement to fund the public health agencies, it opposes the planned merger of the health units across northern Ontario; and

Be it further resolved that should the Province of Ontario move forward with the plan to merge the health units in northern Ontario, the City of Sault Ste. Marie wishes to house the offices of the merged public health unit in the City of Sault Ste.Marie at the Willow Avenue offices that currently house Algoma Public Health.

Public information sessions

Mover: Councillor D. Hilsinger
Seconder: Councillor M. Shoemaker

Whereas under the Environmental Assessment Act, certain classes of environmental assessments do not require public information sessions; and

Whereas it has been a common practice in the City of Sault Ste. Marie to hold public information sessions even when not required to do so; and

Whereas there is no standard process for giving notice of public information sessions to residents within an area affected by the environmental assessment; and

Whereas a standard notice policy would assure council that a regular procedure had been followed across all city departments when undergoing an environmental assessment;

Now therefore be it resolved that staff be requested to bring forward a policy as to when public information sessions will be held, what notice will be circulated, and within which time frames those notices will be circulated for environmental assessments that do not require a formal public information session, but do require public notice.

 




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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans six decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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