Omemee downtown, Coboconk Wellness Centre, get budget support from council

By Kirk Winter

An artist's rendition of the Coboconk Wellness Centre.

Kawartha Lakes council has thrown their support behind Omemee’s revitalization and the Wellness Centre in Coboconk.

The city has recently overseen the rebuilding of downtown Lindsay, Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon. Ward 6 councillor Ron Ashmore complimented council and staff on those projects and asked council to support a similar facelift for downtown Omemee.

“It is Omemee’s turn,” Ashmore said. “It is not often that $1 million worth of municipal money will get you another $3 million in matching funding from the province and the federal government.”

Ashmore was referring to time sensitive programs currently in place that would provide the other three million dollars Omemee needs, but only after the municipality signs on with actual money to partner in the renovations.

Director of Engineering Juan Rojas told council that the Omemee application looks good, and the city expects to hear by March 2022 if the funding from the federal and provincial governments has been approved.

Council approved their contribution to Omemee downtown revitalization unanimously, pending support from Queen’s Park and Ottawa.

The Coboconk Wellness Centre, a far more costly project, also received unanimous support from all councillors even if the city has to take on a special debenture to fund it.

“We have already spent $1.5 million on this project,” Mayor Andy Letham said. “Locals have raised another million dollars during a pandemic. If council wants to move forward with this project we may have to take out a special $10 million debenture while we wait for funding from the province and the federal governments. I am fearful that the upcoming provincial and municipal elections will set those funding decisions back a couple of years and the Wellness Centre is shovel-ready now.”

Letham told council that a project like the Wellness Centre, which will provide a healthcare hub for the north of the city once completed, is an example of community building and hopes the other levels of government come through with substantial funds.

“I am hoping we won’t end up funding the whole $10 million,” Letham said.

Ward One Councillor Emmett Yeo, whose ward will benefit most from the project, said the Wellness Centre “has been embraced by Coboconk and Norland. People have stepped forward, and offering to assist this project is a good route for the municipality to go.”

Councillor Pat Dunn, often a fiscal conservative on city expenditures, supported the project wholeheartedly saying it’s about health and welfare. “I have no problem spending on a project like this.”

“This is a legacy project for this council,” said the mayor, “being built in one of our smaller communities. This is something this council can be proud of.”

Director of Corporate Services Jennifer Stover was asked by Letham to offer an opinion on the city potentially taking on the total costs for building the Wellness Centre.

“We have sufficient room in the Long Term Financial Plan” Stover said. “We already budgeted $6 million for the centre. We just need to increase that allocation to $10 million.”

Deputy Mayor Patrick O’Reilly, while very supportive of the project, was concerned that project costs have grown from $6 million to $11 million in just two years and wondered what is responsible for this happening.

Yeo shared that the group behind the medical centre put together “a responsible budget” but that additional costs for highway access, sewer hookup and costs of material caused by COVID-induced supply chain problems forced the initial estimate to go up.

Councillor Andrew Veale also spoke in favour of the project saying, “It is important that we remember the impact this project will have across the north of the city, including in Kirkfield and Woodville.”

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