by Ralph Raina
In the November 15, 2017 edition of The North Grenville Times, the front page headline read: “Deal reached on Kemptville College”. Further to that, in a November 9, 2017 article in the Brockville “Recorder & Times”, the Mayor of North Grenville is quoted as saying that “both the municipality and the province have 90 days to finalize the deal”, meaning North Grenville intends to buy the 633 acre campus and the more than 30 buildings within 90 days of the announcement, with a goal of transforming it into an “education and community hub”.
I have lived in North Grenville for 73 years and, over my lifetime in this area, I have owned three businesses, I have been elected Mayor of Kemptville for three terms and I have three questions to ask the Municipal Council and Staff about the purchase of the former Kemptville College lands and buildings. I also have one recommendation to make to the Municipality.
I ask Council and Staff of the Municipality of North Grenville, my first question: “Will you advise the taxpayers, before the 90 day deadline is reached, what is your business plan for the former Kemptville College? One would believe that the University of Guelph, which is one of the top education and research institutions in Canada, tried for over seven years and used all of its many resources, to make the College a thriving and profitable education and agricultural research campus, and yet they closed it.
At one of the information sessions I attended after the closing, it was stated that the campus costs approximately $2 million per year just to keep the buildings heated and the campus property made safe by road repair and snow clearing, etc. The 2016 budget of North Grenville is approximately $26m and we have approximately 65 staff people.
Considering the former Kemptville College venture budget of at least $2m, that means there will be at least five new full-time staff people at the campus, to start with. My second question is: Currently, and until early 2018, the costs of maintaining the College buildings and property is paid for by the University of Guelph and, considering that there are only two schools and three government offices using about 10% of the entire campus, where will the remaining revenue come from to pay for the bulk of the $2m basic operating costs of the campus and the additional staff that will be required, for this new venture?
This is not an attack, but an observation only: today, the Council that governs the “Corporation of the Municipality of North Grenville” is comprised of five Councillors, and these individuals have offered to serve this Municipality, and they are doing their jobs as Councillors. The senior staff of the Municipality are full-time bureaucrats, and I believe that none of the current senior management have been full-time entrepreneurs or business people during the last five to ten years. My third question is: Considering that the University of Guelph backed out, and the Municipality will have to hire and pay an experienced entrepreneurial business person, or persons, to operate this new Corporation, how many years will it be before this new venture becomes profitable, and, while we wait for that to happen, will the taxpayers of North Grenville be required to subsidize any potential deficits that may occur?
Considering the above three questions, I humbly make the following recommendation to Council and Staff of North Grenville: Before the 90 day period runs out, I strongly recommend that the Council and Staff make themselves accountable to the taxpayers of this Community by quickly bringing together a Citizens Review Team to review and approve this new venture. For many years now, the Municipality has used a Development Review Team to review and approve all new development in our Municipality. No new development in North Grenville can proceed without the approval of this Development Review Team. This is not a new process for the Municipality, and I am asking the Municipality to extend the Municipal standard of review and approval to their own proposed new venture. I believe that seems fair.
If a Citizens Review Team sounds complicated, imagine how complicated it will be to operate a new Corporation where, on day 1 of the new venture, your only investor is the Municipality of North Grenville. The Citizens Review Team should be made up of 15 residents as follows: 50% women and 50% men. All former or current business people. All to be taxpayers across the four main hamlets within our community. Two representatives from each of the following key industry sectors in North Grenville – Agriculture; Tourism; Education; Health Care; Land Development; Retail; Service; and one at-large representative.
I would be willing to join two other well-known, neutral business people to form a team to quickly select the 15 member Citizens Review Team. Once picked, the Team members sign a non-disclosure agreement (that has penalties), and then have the Mayor, the CAO, and anyone else from the Municipality, present to this group in a private session with one goal: that the Municipality lay out its plan for the future of the College and, at the end of that session, that the representatives have a secret vote, with one question: “If this were your money, would you invest in this proposal for the College?” In closing, to Council: I humbly remind you that we elected you to be the government of the people, by the people, for the people. To Staff: I am not prepared to write a blank cheque with only the hope that it all works out. Please allow us a formal review of the business plan for the former Kemptville College within 30 to 60 days.