Champlain Township property owners will have to wait a bit longer to see if a budgeted $50,000 for a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) will be made available for downtown core improvements or building improvements.
A CIP has the aim of attracting investment in established core areas, redeveloping commercial properties, encouraging business retention and increasing tourism attractiveness and beautification of main streets. It often takes the form of matching grants given to business owners to improve storefront facades, window replacements, upgrades signage or restore heritage elements to buildings, along with similar projects. Funds can also be used for downtown improvements, landscaping or can be in the form of a downtown business improvement loan.
A background report was presented to council on January 6, 2021 and consultations have taken place for the CIP, which was already put on hold pending completion of the municipality’s corporate strategic plan. The report looked at the downtown areas of L’Orignal and Vankleek Hill.
Similar CIP projects have been undertaken in the Township of North Glengarry, Clarence-Rockland, Prince Edward County and the Town of Gananoque. For Clarence-Rockland and Prince Edward County, participants had to match municipal contributions. In Prince Edward County, the grants were made available to those owning heritage properties.
L’Orignal councillor André Roy said that while he understood funds were budgeted for this year (2021), he wondered about the benefits of giving grants to seven or eight property owners for improvements for their buildings.
“How do we recuperate that?” Roy asked.
Senior planner Jennifer Laforest said that some of it would be recovered through fees, revised MPAC assessment and taxes paid back to the municipality but she added that there were broader objectives.
The aim of the CIP plan was to support the direction of downtown core areas and where needed, to re-use existing commercial locations.
Roy wanted to know how long it would take to recuperate the funds in terms of taxes collected. Laforest estimated three to four years.
If a building improvement amounted to $10,000, Champlain Township Treasurer Kevin Tessier acknowledged that the increased amount of taxes paid per year would be less than $100, responding to the mayor’s estimate of $62 per year.
“I have difficulty giving $5,000 to seven or eight businesses when we have major repairs to do to the (Champlain) library, we have salaries and debt expenses. I calculated $480,000 in expenses which we cannot refuse to spend,” Roy said.
While work on the CIP project began months ago, Roy says he has had trouble with the idea since Day 1. The money could benefit more taxpayers by being spent on infrastructure like the arena, town hall or municipal garage, Roy contended.
“Personally, I am against it,” Roy concluded.
Planner Marc Rivet of JL Richards, which prepared the CIP report, pointed out that the aim was not a direct return of taxes, but the improvement of the downtown core, to generate more interest in downtown and attract tourists.
There are many types of projects that could be undertaken, Rivet continued and said that when surveyed, people said this was something that they wanted.
Roy answered that there might be many things that Champlain Township could do for the business community. “But for me to give $5,000 to one person won’t change the downtown. If a person has let their building go for 20 years, an amount of $5,000 is not going to make them spend $100,000,” Roy added.
Vankleek Hill councillor Peter Barton said he disagreed with Roy.
“Those (financial) challenges will always be there. Times are tough and it is not easy for small business,” Barton said, arguing that the return should not be thought about as tax dollars, but the township investing in the community.
“Other groups are doing this,” Barton pointed out. “If this is not the interest here, what else can we do?” Barton asked.
“Before we decide, we need to think how we can better help our employers,” Roy said. Referring to new signs and new windows, Roy suggested waiting and setting some time aside to consider how best to help local businesses.
Reminding councillors of the corporate strategic plan, Roy said that there are two different projects being considered and that the council was not taking the time to look at them together.
West Hawkesbury councillor Gerry Miner asked council what its decision would be if this were budget-time. Miner asked if the council would spend the money on infrastructure or on this?
Is there some other way to help businesses that does not involve spending money, Miner asked, agreeing that the issue be brought back.
The CIP project will be discussed on November 2 during the council’s committee of the whole meeting.
Roy said he preferred to bring the idea back to a committee of the whole meeting that does not have too many other items on the agenda, so that council could spend the time that it needs for discussion.
The cost of the CIP study is $7,500.