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Thursday, November 21, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

St. Jacobs Village Manor appeals to township for help

Retirement home non-compliant with mandated fire safety sprinkler system

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THIS WEEK

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A St. Jacobs retirement home finding itself under water financially in trying to get water to its new sprinkler system is looking to the township for help. The appeal got a sympathetic hearing from Woolwich councillors this week.

Village Manor is the sole remaining retirement or group home in Woolwich to be out of compliance with provincial regulations mandating sprinklers and related safety measures. The delays all boil down to money, say owners Wes and Deb Moore.

Citing limited revenues and a home full of some of the most disadvantaged residents, the couple wants the township to cover half of the costs of extending a municipal water line to the property at 29 Albert St. Much of the funding for the sprinkler system was covered by the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility, along with refinancing secured by the Moores. But there’s just no more money for an unexpected additional cost to extend a water line and install a fire hydrant to the site, they said.

“We financially just don’t have that,” Wes Moore told councillors meeting Tuesday night, noting the couple had been led to believe the township was going to pick up the cost of extending the service.

Though the project was supposed to have been completed by now, the province agreed to reopen the file, covering half of the new costs. Addressing council June 18, Moore asked for “the compassion to match” the ministry funds.

Though unwilling to simply cover the costs, councillors were agreeable to arranging for the work to be done and then collecting the money back over a 10-year period. That would be a similar arrangement to other instances where municipal services such as water and sewer have been installed, with benefitting property owners paying the money back over time.

Dan Kennaley, the township’s director of engineering and planning, noted staff had discussed the payback option, though the director of finance had recommended against any such terms. Councillors, however, opted for more flexibility.

“I think we have to find a way to make it work,” said Coun. Larry Shantz, pointing to liability concerns that grow as the project remains uncompleted.

Best to do the work right away and deal with the finances later, he suggested.

In that philosophy he was joined by Ward 1 councillors Scott McMillan and Patrick Merlihan, who agreed some leeway was needed to care for those who live at Village Manor.

“The key is … how do we protect the residents of the home?” asked chief administrative officer David Brenneman in noting the process is up to council to decide, with the welfare of clients as perhaps the largest issue.

The Moores said many of their 23 residents are financially disadvantaged or suffer from mental health issues, meaning the costs of upgrading the facility couldn’t simply be passed on to them through the monthly fees.

Though not a non-profit, their operation is small and centered on the clients – “they’re like family” – with little in the way of extra revenue, he added.

“We’re not in a position to be in the same financial situation as the big, for-profit homes,” said Wes Moore.

Already in a tight financial situation, there was simply no more money when the couple was “blindsided” by the extra costs.

“We didn’t prepare for it,” said Deb Moore in looking for council’s help to finish the project. “If we had the funds available, we would have done it.”

Because the law requires sprinklers, the alternative is for the township to shut down the retirement home. That’s not on the agenda, said deputy fire chief Dennis Aldous.

“I don’t foresee us forcing them to close,” he said, adding that with most of the work done, at this point it makes sense simply to push ahead and get the project completed.

Provincial legislation mandating sprinklers and related safety measures in retirement homes came into effect Jan. 1, 2014, with all operations having to be in compliance by January 1 of this year. When Village Manor was unable to finish by then, Aldous gave the Moores an extension until May 10, but the lack of funds for the extension of municipal services meant the ministry funding was put on hold.

With Aldous slated to talk with the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office and engineering staff to get some solid costs estimates, council put off a formal decision until June 25, allowing for more consultation time with the property owners as well.

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