The numbers guy

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For as long as I’ve known him, if the city was in the midst of some number crunching for budgets or specific projects, you can bet that Councillor Denis Carr was in the middle of it. He’s just always been the numbers guy.

Having said that, that’s quite the number for the Cornwall budget total right now—about $154,000,000—but there’s lots of encouraging news for taxpayers. “Right now we’re within $560,000 of no increase. I’m pretty confident we’re going to get close to a no-increase budget. Everybody in the province is aware of the increase in assessment—on average in Cornwall is 4.5%--and already we’ve looked after 3% of that. Even if we weren’t able to reduce the $560,000 that’s there, the tax increase in Cornwall would be less than 1.5%,” said Carr in a conversation with me recently. “We haven’t really cut back on a lot of things. I hate to always bring this up and I’m sort of known for it, but that Progress Fund that we enjoy from the sale of Cornwall Electric, we’ve been able to use the interest from that $25,000,000 investment to fund many of the sort of capital items and infrastructure improvements. There’s a great deal of talk about the 3 plus 1 Sportsplex and it would appear that we’re going to be able to pay our portion of the cost entirely from the interest of the Progress Fund.”

The city will still borrow the 10 or 12 million that is needed for their portion but Carr explains the interest from the fund will take care of paying off that debt. “So again we won’t be delving into the taxpayer’s pocket to pay the capital cost of this Sportsplex,” according to Carr.

Another hot item during these budget discussions is the future of the city’s outdoor swimming pools. “Many of the wading and swimming pools in the various neighbourhoods in the downtown core are very, very old. It’s just costing too much money to keep them in a state where they’re safe and in a condition that is good to use. The wading pools aren’t even heated. We put in cold water in the morning and the kids are reluctant to jump in. The new splash pad that we put in Lamoureux Park, just across from the United Counties building, has been very, very successful and we’re looking to closing a few more neighbourhood pools this year and we’re going to be putting in another splash pad. We find they’re very successful, economically and the efficiency is much greater. You don’t need life guards and when the weather isn’t conducive you switch the splash pad off.”

Carr says the new splash pad will be going into St. Theresa Park in the 13th Street area where that neighbourhood pool is slated for closure. He says the cost of someone going into a neighbourhood pool is about $30 a visit. Carr says, “There are better things we can do with our money.”

Carr admits, “It used to be, in my younger days, the neighbourhood pool was a focus. Kids gathered there in the summertime. Kids are doing all kinds of other stuff today. The visits to those neighbourhood pools have gone down considerably. We use them in the mornings for swimming lessons but in the afternoon it’s free swimming. Gone are the days of ‘free’ swimming.”

He says, “We don’t want to discourage anyone when we talk about affordability but if they’re not being used and an individual swim is costing $30 a visit, there are better ways we can spend those dollars and still not scrimp on our recreation facilities for the general public.”

Carr says in the future it won’t spell the end to outdoor swimming pools “but you’re going to see more of these splash pads strategically located so there’s one, sort of, in the four corners of the city.”

Carr says he’s received some challenging reaction from constituents including his own son who didn’t want his neighbourhood pool to be closed because his kids use it. Carr points out, “It’s not slated for closure but it’s one of the ones where usage has gone down.”

Carr says down the road, his granddaughter will be visiting a splash pad. “The budget committee has made some recommendations actually speeding up the closure of some of these old pools and we’ll be making this recommendation and the others we have developed before the full council before the end of March,” said Carr.

The budget committee has a meeting scheduled for Friday, March 12.

Carr says the budget process has changed somewhat in Cornwall. “We put together a budget steering committee two years ago. That budget steering committee meets on a quarterly basis, minimum, finance and senior administration and goes over the results of the various departments on a quarterly basis. By doing that we have some input into the budget that’s coming up so there are no real surprises in the budget process but we do go through each department and allow the department heads to make their presentations to explain what it is they’re doing in their budgets. But generally council sets a target and administration has been able to meet the target. This year we asked them to come in with a budget that had a 2% increase maximum and right now we’re down around 1% and when it’s over, it may be a little bit better than that.” “St. Lawrence College has just put in a request for a million dollar grant from the city to assist them with their renovations and the changes they’re making down at the (Cornwall) campus. Council has agreed that we’re going to give them the million dollars,” says Carr

Some people agree with the move but many do not as well. “St. Lawrence College is a very important resource for this community. We’ve got to make sure it stays here if we’re going to put that kind of funding into it, I think we should have some sort of say at the Board of Governors level.”

Carr says we used to have a seat on that board. Maybe it’s time we were back.

I’m John Divinski.

Organizations: Lawrence College, Progress Fund, Cornwall Electric Board of Governors

Geographic location: Cornwall, Lamoureux Park, Theresa Park 13th Street

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