Dec 13, 2009

Oshawa transit depot option 'rejected'

DURHAM -- Thanks, but no thanks.

That's Durham Region's response to the offer from Oshawa to settle a dispute over a bus garage owned by the City.

What's at stake is $82.3 million in provincial money the Region could use to build a bus rapid transit system along Hwy. 2.

Durham and Oshawa have been haggling over the transfer of a bus garage on Raleigh Avenue since the Region took over operation of transit services in 2006. At the heart of the issue is 'unfunded liabilities.'

The Region wants Oshawa to cough up $8.6 million to cover things such as employee pensions and benefits. The City says those costs are now the Region's responsibility.

Oshawa council, on Nov. 23, passed a motion that said if Durham dropped the request for $8.6 million, it could rent the depot for 25 years at a cost of $1. The other option Oshawa considered was leasing the depot for $440,000 a year for five years, with options to renew the lease.

Regional council's finance committee on Wednesday approved a staff recommendation that said the Oshawa offer should be "rejected."

Regional Chairman Roger Anderson has previously said, "We're adamant that they have to give the land to us for $1, we will not rent that property at market value. (Regional) staff have been instructed to start looking for sites."

On Wednesday, Mr. Anderson stated, "If Oshawa doesn't see the rationale of signing a lease for $1 a year, we as a group will have to spend money to buy land and build a garage. If we don't, we don't get the $83 million."

For the bus rapid transit system, the Region needs to have depots in both the east and west end of Durham. A lease has already been reached with Ajax for land, at $1 for 25 years.

Under the rules set out by the Province, the Region either has to own or have a lease agreement in place for all facilities, or it doesn't get any money.

If Oshawa holds firm, the Region would "have to invest some money in (land) acquisition. We can't lose that $83 million," Mr. Anderson said.

Buying land in the Bowmanville area would cost somewhere between $30,000 to $50,000 an acre, Mr. Anderson stated.

It would cost about $25 million to upgrade and expand the two depots.

Oshawa Councillor Joe Kolodzie proposed the option with "nominal rent for 25 years" provided the Region drops its claim to unfunded liabilities.

"I don't support it. I hope the committee defeats it and moves forward," Coun. Kolodzie said. "It's not my position, it's the Oshawa position and I have to bring it forward."

Ajax Mayor Steve Parish said a compromise could be reached, with the City agreeing to the transfer of the Raleigh Avenue garage to the Region, and the matter of the unfunded liability referred to binding arbitration.

"If that's put forward to Oshawa, as a sensible middle ground, no one loses face," he said, adding the alternative is "protracted litigation."

The Oshawa position is "wonderful and makes great press, but it doesn't get the Region the premises. We'll all look like asses and we'll be asses."

The matter now goes to Regional Council on Dec. 16. | Oshawa transit depot option 'rejected'.

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