Let me reflect on the Town of Aurora 2019 year in review from my perspective. I’ve decided to share below some of the highlights that caught my attention.
Year 2019 was the first year in action for our Term 2018-2022 Aurora Council. Worth noting is that the majority of the Term’s Council were returning members where in the previous term they voted to reduce the number of Council members from eight to six.
On January 21st, 2019 Aurora Council made the decision to opt-in and allow recreational cannabis stores in Aurora to bring a new sector of economic development opportunities. That was the only day for Aurora residents to voice their support or concerns in front of the Council. The provincial government had given municipalities until January 22nd, 2019 to decide. Mayor Tom Mrakas voiced concerns about “cut off tax revenue that our community will need to address the enforcement issues” if Aurora did not opt-in. Later on in March, The Auroran reported the motion from the Mayor and supported by Council where “Aurora called on the Region of York to develop a policy on cannabis use in public places that would be uniform throughout all nine municipalities within York Region.” Sometime in November it was announced that there was an application to open a cannabis store on the southeast corner of Yonge and Wellington Street. That location was later rejected by the Ontario government.
Aurora Public Library Gets a Face-lift & Automated Book Return System
The Aurora Public Library renovations continued until mid 2019. I am sure many of you will recall the ‘Imagine the Possibilities’ temporary wall at the main entrance. The renovations included interior cosmetic changes in addition to a modular living room for events, a makerspace room with access to hands-on technologies like 3D printing, access to VR equipment, and more. The Library installed an automated book return system in addition to the existing self-checkout kiosks. The new automated book return system (including hardware and software) would free Library staff time to invest in other work activities. The Library also extended their operating hours. In 2019 during budgeting time Town Staff indicated that there were financial pressures related to the Library Square development and asked our Library to present the “2019 operating budget at 2018 funding levels and by forgoing the 2.5% inflationary increase for 2019 in support of Library Square.” Source: APL Board Agenda, Page 16, File Type PDF.
The Library Square Project Costs Ballooned to Almost $52,000,000
The Library Square project was definitely a highlight of year 2019 and considered one of Council’s top priorities. In March 2019, the project was earmarked at an estimated $35,570,100 ($27,189,600 for addition to Church Street School plus $8,380,500 ice rink in the winter and water feature in the summer). In May, new additions to the Library Square were proposed and approved including $3,544,400 Bridge Link, $398,900 Library Entrance Vestibule, $157,700 Café Snack bar/Concession, along with some other updates. The revised Library Square estimated budget reported by the Town of Aurora grew to $42,428,700. In July, $5,465,300 was approved for the Library Corridor Extension and the estimated budget total became $47,894,000. Finally by December, the approved Library Square capital budget was $51,611,700 (excluding parking strategy). Beyond capital expenditures, the new Library Square operating budget also required an additional $720,000 in municipal support to pay for the operating costs once Library Square would be completed and operational in 2022. The impact on the operating budget was phased onto the tax levy in increments of $240,000 (0.5% increase) per year for three years, starting 2019.
The Canadian Food and Wine Institute is Now Under “The Armoury” Hood
Niagara College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute (CFWI) officially opened in the Aurora Armoury in November 2019. Thanks to an “innovative partnership” agreement negotiated during the previous Council’s term, the Armoury was renovated for the CFWI and reported by Council to be on budget, somewhere around $5,000,000. The project was originally planned for completion by late 2018 to early 2019 with the original budget cost of $2,300,000 increased to accommodate additions like the extension on the South side of the building. The Town also fully equipped the facility for CFWI and the two parties signed some form of leasing agreement. The Canadian Food and Wine Institute has been offering food workshops, facility space rental with catering, and a pop-in café, not completely consistent with original reports on how the Canadian Food & Wine Institute coming to Armoury was presented to Aurorans in 2017.
Council Approved Central York Fire Services Station 4-5 Design AGAIN
In December 2019, the Town reported out, “Council approved the design of Central York Fire Services Station 4-5 and the revised budget of $13,567,727. The funding for the revised budget will include $11,000,000 from original funding sources, $1,650,000 from reserves and $917,727 from future operational savings which will include, but are not limited to, the delayed hiring of staff through 2020 and 2021.” Note in 2017, the Auroran reported out, “Preliminary designs for the new fire station, the fifth one servicing both Aurora and Newmarket, were approved by Council last week, along with the creation of more detailed design work. … The two municipalities will share the burden of the project’s $11,000,000 total budget.” When the original building designs were approved the completion was scheduled for spring 2020 but as it turned out, the budget of $11,000,000 was insufficient and a re-design was required.
Aurora Council Declares a Climate Emergency, Eliminates Environmental Advisory Committee
In October, under the direction of Aurora Council, the Town of Aurora officially declared a climate emergency “for the purposes of deepening its commitment to protecting ecosystems, reducing the carbon imprint and protecting the community from climate change.” Unfortunately, earlier in the year Aurora Council approved removal of the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) and passed responsibility to the multi-purposed Community Advisory Committee (CAC). It was the EAC in 2018 that recommended to the previous Council “that they approve an anti-idling bylaw be drafted and put into practice. This process, however, hit a snag when municipal staff spoke up on big concerns on how we would enforce.” In reference to deepening its commitment to protecting ecosystems it’s good to mention that in 2019 the Town of Aurora was recognized by the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) for reducing the amount of road salt used on our roads. Road salt has harmful effects in freshwater ecosystems. Having said that, it is good to see the change in direction since the previous Aurora Council made the decision last term to switch to 100% road salt application from previous 10% salt / 90% sand mix.
Aurora Family Leisure Complex Skate Park Total Cost Rises to $1,200,000
In June 2019, the Town reported out that “Aurora Town Council approved a report satisfying the conditional approval of repairs to the Aurora Family Leisure Complex Skate Park. The repairs are expected to take place during the fall of 2019.” The skateboard park at the Aurora Family Leisure Complex will cost $600,000 to correct a faulty build from 2015. The first skate park cracks were reported in April 2015. In May 2015 the Town held the skate park grand opening ceremony to open the park to vivid skateboarders. The cost of the skate park in 2015 also cost taxpayers $600,000. During the Council discussions in 2019 around this matter Councillor Gallo pressed that the confidentiality surrounding a specific memo be waived and its contents released to the public to properly communicate to the residents the full story of why the 2015 skate park project failed.
Town Passes New Smoking By-law
In November 2019, Aurora Town Council approved a new smoking by-law that prohibits smoking cigarettes, cannabis and vaping on Town properties: Town Hall, the Joint Operations Centre, all Community Centres, parks, playgrounds, public sports fields, trails and town-owned land. This by-law does not apply to sidewalks and roadways that are part of the provincial Highway Traffic Act. Note that the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017 states: “Children’s playgrounds and play areas 8. (1) Children’s playgrounds and all public areas within 20 metres of any point on the perimeter of a children’s playground are prescribed areas.”
Hallmark Baseball Diamonds Budget Underestimated by $942,000
In December 2019, the Town staff asked Council to approve a budget of $3,942,000, an increase of $942,200 from the previously approved budget, for the construction of the Hallmark Lands Baseball Diamonds. Unstable soil conditions and drainage issues were noted as the reasons but the decision was deferred. The new baseball diamonds are planned to be constructed in the near future on the former Hallmark property located near Industrial Parkway South and Vandorf Sideroad. The 13-acre property was purchased by the Town in 2015 for $7,400,000. In 2018 Town Council made the decision to move forward and convert the employment lands to recreational lands and later to build two baseball diamonds budgeted in the amount of $3,000,000.
Anna Lozyk Romeo
Town of Aurora, ON