Town Council buckled to what councillors described as considerable pressure from the public last week, agreeing to ask staff to come up with a proposal for repairing the Knox Apartment steps. Councillor Bill Osborne led the charge, describing in a Committee of the Whole meeting how he originally “spoke quite vocally” in favour of their removal, but has since heard from so many regular users that he has changed his tune.
The town’s 2013 budget originally included $30,000 to be spent on the removal of the steps — which form part of a pedestrian route between Church Street and the Foodland/Canadian Tire retail centre. “It certainly isn’t going to cost $30,000 to repair them, I would think,” Osborne offered.
Other councillors nodded their agreement.
Whoa. Wait just a minute. As soon as any taxpayer dollars are spent on those steps — either for removal or repair — the liability of the Town of St. Marys must certainly increase.
Remove them? And no one will slip while walking on that steep incline because there will be no steps to walk on.
But repair them? Then, even if only one person in 10,000 slips, there’s still a greater likelihood of injury because the pedestrian traffic will be greater.
“Use at your own risk” signs will only go so far. That much has already been proven in court.
So, if the steps are to be repaired, they must be prepared up to modern standards. Even to the untrained engineering eye, that must certainly include proper subsurface stabilization, expertly-designed steps, suitable railings on either side, and persistent maintenance.
Plus, as Councillor Stephen McCotter (another steps supporter) has maintained, they must be extended to cover the entire slope — not like they are now, with people forced to decide between scaling the remainder of the grassy hillside, or scrambling onto the Knox Apartments parking lot.
Add all that up, and there’s every possibility that repairing the steps will cost $30,000. Perhaps more.
It brings to mind the comments made by Mayor Steve Grose during a public meeting hosted by the town in early April to present the then-proposed budget. (At which, peculiarly, no one mentioned the steps, even though there had been earlier news reports about the pending loss.) Responding to suggestions that $25,000 for a particular program was a drop in the bucket compared to overall annual expenditures, Grose stated emphatically that it all adds up. To be effective managers, Council should be wary of any and all expenses, no matter how small.
Repairing the steps may be the right decision. But to suggest that it’s an insignificant expense is not in keeping with the message people want to hear from Council.
Next up (perhaps as soon as next year)? The green bridge on Water Street. Similar arguments; a different mode of transportation, and a whole new scale of potential expense.