Although some questions still exist for the future of the steam train, city council has given the McLean Mill Society the go ahead by granting them the funding to run for this year.
Director Bill Collette acknowledged during the March 20 budget meeting that the state of the train is currently unknown, and said that the society is willing to take on the costs if they exceed what is set aside in their budget.
“Our capital budget may be revised if the train operations requires further funding,” he said. “And that’s a key point here. The train operations is very important to us, we recognize in our ask here today that it is mantatory that we get the train on the tracks and ready to go.
“If more is required than we anticipate, the McLean Mill Society is prepared to look after that.”
Director Sheena Falconer went over the capital budget for the first year, which included equipment for things like the kitchen, event management and a campsite.
“We’ve taken all these items that will add value to the mill, and we’ve tried to think about the things that will produce revenue immediately or support revenue-generating things and put them in there,” Falconer said. “We’ve spent two years thinking about the things that are needed out there to make it a comfortable, attractive, welcoming site.”
She and executive director Deanna Beaudoin reiterated that the society is willing to cut back on some of those items if the funding is required for the train.
“We are going to take that responsibility,” said Beaudoin. “If it means we’re going to have to cut back on some of our capital asks, then we’re going to be responsible financially for it to get us up and running this year.”
City CAO Tim Pley provided more information about the track maintenance that occurred earlier this week. A track or a railway has an internal qualified inspector who oversees and maintains that track and is accountable to the owner. The Industrial Heritage Society has an inspector who is out of the country until mid-April.
“So we can’t get that inspection done until mid-April,” said Pley.
In the meantime, Southern Rail has provided a brief inspection of the problematic section of track to give some advice. They will make a crew available to replace the railway ties that are in need of replacement until that final report can be delivered in April.
“We will have some advice in the meantime,” said Pley. “We will be able to undertake some work on some things that are obvious. At this point it appears that the train can be running by early May.”
Councillor Sharie Minions still had some concerns about the large unknowns. “I think that my main concern is giving out money when we don’t know,” she said. “What if [the cost] is high enough that your revenue suffers hugely next year? I would be very supportive of putting that in our budget, but maybe not supportive of giving that full amount out until we have the rest of the information.”
Councillor Denis Sauvé agreed, “I don’t like to write a big cheque right away for the amount, I would like to just go on a monthly basis and see where we’re going at and actually seeing receipts of what we’re spending on.”
He also took a moment to address the public. “I just wanted to remind the public that the society is there because we asked for it,” he said. “You’re representing us. Instead of giving one big chunk of money like we used to before, we never had any accountability, or transparency as to how the money was spent. We asked for this society because we wanted to have more accountability and transparency. We have somewhat of a responsibility.”
By the end of the city’s 2017-2021 financial draft plan, the city had $93,000 left to spend on supplementary projects, and the mill society was asking for a total of $96,000 in combined capital costs and railway insurance.
“So we’re voting on something we don’t have,” Mayor Mike Ruttan summarized.
Minions was critical of the budget plan, “This is the part of the process where we get to see what [budget] cuts look like and see if those are in the best interest of our community. I have concerns about a lot of things in our budget because we are holding to that three percent.
“The McLean Mill money is certainly not the ideal way I’d like to see the rest of our funds be spent. But I recognize that this is an investment we need to make to give the society the best chance that they can to get this facility that we all want going.”
Councillor Ron Paulson reminded council that they have been working on this project for two and a half years to get to this point. “It’s an alternative management model, and I think to shortchange them and not to give them a chance is an error. If they don’t come through with what they say they’re going to do then we have to have a look at it next year. But I think it’s a huge mistake. We as a council have given them a mandate to manage the mill and come up with a management plan and budget and a revenue plan. I think they’ve gone above and beyond what we’ve asked them to do. And we need to give them a chance to do what they can do.”
In the end, council decided that provision of the funds to McLean Mill would be subject to the receipt and approval of a rail and track maintenance plan.