Brick Mill Society seeking City dollars

Members of the Yorkton Brick Mill Heritage Society appeared at the regular meeting of Yorkton Council Monday looking for City dollars to take the work at the site into the next phase.

The Society has been making improvements to the mill for the last several years and has taken on a variety of fundraising initiatives.

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The work has included a new engineered roof, work on the foundation, landscaping and trees, and ongoing repairs on the exterior, said Society member Gene Krepakevich.

Next the Society hopes to install a series of outdoor story boards to tell stories of Yorkton’s history, and then a new two-storey building that would have 6,400 square feet of space.

Larry Pearen with the Society said the building they are terming an “interpretive centre” would have a cost of about $1 million, and they want the City to help fund that cost by providing $300,000.

Councillor Quinn Haider asked if the City did not provide the money had the Society considered “going at it on your own?”

“We probably won’t be going on it on our own,” said Pearen. “I don’t think we’d be moving ahead with the building without the City.”

Pearen said they see the City contribution as important lead money to show others who might donate that the project has a good start and would move forward.

The building is also looked on as an important facet of the overall development, although Pearen said details of what might go into the building, coffee shop, artist space, city museum or other ideas, is still to be determined.

But, it would dovetail with the agricultural history of the city, and of the city’s own history.

“I think we have a story to tell, and we think a building can do that,” he said.

A report circulated to Council from Ashley Stradeski – Director of Finance, with the City said there are numerous questions that must be answered before committing $300,000.

“Before addressing the funding question from the Brick Mill Society, the City should determine the long-term plan for ownership of the mill. If the City intends to retain ownership, it also opens itself up to liability issues and future commitments with the Brick Mill. Even though the current Brick Mill Society has plans for a dynamic future, with all volunteer organizations, there are concerns over longevity. The question remains, who will maintain the structure or continue with project development in the event that the Brick Mill Society disbands or ceases to have sufficient volunteers or resources?,” detailed the report.

There is also a question of liability.

“The problems associated with protecting vacant buildings and land are a continuous concern. That's especially true when it involves a longer-term renovation project such as the Brick Mill. As a city-owned asset it requires consistent oversight to protect the City from a liability suit. In most provinces, the building owner has a strict duty of care for all users of the property and there is no reduced responsibility for trespassers who are 'uninvited'. Currently the Brick Mill Structure is not listed on the City’s property insurance policy but is noted as a vacant for liability purposes. In order to protect the financial interests of the City, should the City retain ownership, placing insurance coverage on the property would be another consideration. These additional premiums would have an impact on the operating budget as well,” detailed the report.

In terms of ownership “If the City continues to own the property, then the Brick Mill Society would be required to abide by the reporting requirements and approval procedures followed by all contractors working on city projects.

“This would require more scrutiny to the overall management of the project, and approval for all spending components. The City would need to appoint an employee liaison and commit to additional time and resources on the management of the Brick Mill, to ensure consistent accountability in the management of City-owned assets.”

Council would pass a motion Monday to offer the mill to the Society for one dollar.

“The other option would be to consider selling the property at a nominal amount to the Brick Mill Heritage Society. This would require the society to incorporate as a business entity in order to take title. This option would enable the City to pass along any related liability for the mill onto the owner while giving the society full control over the property and its plans and designs. This also puts the onus of management and maintenance onto the Brick Mill Society without committing the City to future resources,” stated the report.

As for the $300,000 funding request, there are several options to consider that could facilitate this, whether the funds are treated as a capital budget item, an operating budget item with an annual donation, or reserve funding, said Stradeski.

The details of any funding were referred, as part of the unanimous motion to 2020 budget deliberation.

The $300,000 request is essentially one per cent of the City’s annual taxes, with a one per cent increase raising $242,500.

One funding option not tied to a tax increase would be for Council to draw funds from the City’s rainy day reserve, which currently has approximately $150,000 in it, with an expectation of some dollars being added at the end of the current year, said Stradeski.

Mayor Bob Maloney said it was too early to think about tax increases, adding there are various ways the City might come up with the $300,000 without tax increases once they begin to look more closely at the request.

“I like the vision. I think there is a lot of potential. We have to see the light at the end of the tunnel on this one,” he said.

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