By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Northumberland County wants to give its taxpayers the best of everything, but County Councillor Mandy Martin wonders if the $60-million price tag is worth it.
The debate came up Monday at county council’s Public Works Committee meeting, when Director of Public Works Denise Marshall updated them on the new Joint Operations Base project for which Dillon Consulting was first hired to do a feasibility study in 2021.
There were many reasons it was contemplated, Marshall said. In addition to growth projections, there was the potential for increased efficiency in operations, resource sharing, communications and co-ordination, and service delivery.
But one important reason dates back to the provincial downloads of 2001, when the province downloaded 130 km. of roadway onto the county, increasing its roads network by 35% – not to mention the associated downloaded responsibility for culverts, bridges, signage and street lights, all with only minimal funds to support that increased responsibility going forward.
“These are high-volume roads, the highest-speed roads, used to transport goods and services, move people from the 401 to other parts of the county, so higher levels of service were needed. There’s more for us to do on the roads with less time.”
It’s been a struggle, Marshall said, especially given that the two main works depots were badly outdated – Morganston, built in 1967, and the one on Veronica Street in Cobourg, built in 1960.
“There were many deficiencies in these buildings in terms of functionality, accessibility and sustainability,” Marshall summed up, with space sorely lacking to the point that the county has had to rent space to store certain items and supplies.
“A consolidated works yard is becoming a best practice,” she noted.
County staff had investigated the matter themselves, visiting four different Joint Operations Base yards built over the last five years.
“One of the common themes was that they all built for expansion, they all built for growth – and most of them are already at capacity.”
Marshall listed ways a new joint base will prepare the county for growth and address the efficiency concerns she outlined.
It would have the capacity to serve as an Emergency Operations Centre, and even as an alternate EOC for member municipalities. It can be used for training purposes and meeting space. It’s a means of sharing equipment and resources. It offers updated and more efficient space for fleet services (including maintenance, with properly sized drive-through bays). Charging stations for electrical vehicles will be part of the plan, as well as a customer service desk.
Marshall pointed out how roads staff are driving through the worst and most dangerous weather imaginable – then, back at the works yard, have no lockers or even laundry facilities for their personal protective equipment.
There is talk of using part of the joint location as a paramedic and fire-service base, as the proposed location in the central-west portion of the county is an area where response times can be a challenge. And it would be a good base for their successful community-based paramedicine program.
The $60-million price tag is an early estimate, Marshall said, but it would be offset to some degree by the sales of their works-yard locations at Plainville, Cobourg and Morganston.
The next step is to move forward on finding the appropriate property for the purpose.
“Ninety-five acres is what I have seen,” Martin said.
“With services required – water, sewer, electricity. And access to roads. This narrows it down.”
She acknowledged all the benefits Marshall had listed, but said attention must be paid to the challenges of making it happen.
“This is a hard decision. This is a tough decision,” she stated.
“Do we want to amalgamate everything? I see the potential, but can we afford it? Is it doable?
“Ninety-five acres is a big space. That’s industrial-park stuff – considerable industrial-park stuff.”
Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Moore agreed, adding that the consultants will be present at county council’s Nov. 15 meeting to answer these questions.
“It’s a different way of delivering our services and doing business, but staff recognize there’s significant opportunity for efficiency, compared to being spread out all over,” Moore said.
Committee Chair Scott Jibb agreed it was a glass-half-full situation, where these efficiencies can be considered alongside some other important points.
For one thing, he said, if there’s one central location, then the piece of machinery that’s needed is always in the wrong place and will have to be sent somewhere else.
Another consideration Jibb mentioned is that an unfortunate disaster that befalls that one location could result in the incalculable damage of a total loss.
“Do the benefits justify the cost?” Jibb pondered.
“That’s not something for us to decide here today.”
Councillor John Logel made the motion to direct staff to proceed with initiating the process to acquire property for the project and, subsequently, begin the design process – but there was no seconder.
Martin objected to the “fait accompli” feel of the motion, as if it’s a done deal, and offered an amended motion – that the committee receive the report for information and recommend that this item be identified for separate discussion at the Nov. 15 meeting of county council. Martin’s motion passed.