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Woolwich approves community grants worth $46,000

A tractor-drawn wagon that shuttles passengers from the tourist train stop to downtown Elmira is a great idea, but not to the tune of $15,000 from Woolwich taxpayers, say township councillors.

Meeting for a special budget session Jan. 12, they approved $46,000 worth of grants, but deferred a final decision on the request to support the wagon rides, launched last year by downtown merchant Elmeda Weber of Kitchen Kuttings.

The tractor-drawn wagon meets the Waterloo Central Railway train when it arrives in the south industrial area of Elmira, bringing them downtown. Its launch last year was funded with $12,000 from the Elmira Business Improvement Area (BIA) budget. Weber originally asked for $16,900 to continue the service in 2017, but dropped that number to $14,900 following a $2,000 grant from the BIA.

Councillors balked, however, at even the reduced figure, suggesting something in line with what the BIA is proposing.

In its first year, the service shuttled some 1,850 passengers, Weber told councillors. Ridership started out slowing in June, with fewer than 200, but hit a peak of more than 900 in August, with numbers dropping again in September and October as tourist season wound down.

“The rides this past year have far exceeded my expectations,” she said, adding the service ran smoothly for the most part.

“The greatest glitch was the wagon was too small,” said Weber, noting there were a few days when two trips were needed to carry all the passengers.

Pointing out that the service benefits downtown merchants, Coun. Mark Bauman asked Weber if she’d explored other partnerships to help spread out the financial burden.

“I can’t agree to the whole $14,900 – that’s way beyond the value that we’re getting.”

Coun. Scott Hahn, who serves on the Elmira BIA, said the organization’s budget can’t cover ongoing costs, noting other forms of revenue will be needed.

“I’m disappointed that no other alternative funding was found,” he said.

“This isn’t a sustainable business model,” added Coun. Patrick Merlihan. “I can’t see the township being in a position to do this year after year.”

Along with ongoing grants of $42,745, councillors did approve new grant requests of $1,700 for the Historical Society of St. Boniface and Maryhill and $1,500 for the Elmira and District Horticultural Society.

The ongoing grants, approved in 2015 for the reminder of the current council term, include $10,000 to Woolwich Community Services, plus another $10,000 to the group’s youth centre housed at the WMC. Community Care Concepts gets $10,000, while the Woolwich Counselling Centre receives $8,000. Each grant is subject to a two-per-cent increase each year.

Councillors expect to return to the Elmira wagon rides request later in the budget process when they have a better handle on expenses.

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