KAGAWONG – Billings council has decided that the township will retain ownership of the Old Church on the Hill in Kagawong, having decided to not sell it to a group of citizens who had proposed turning it into a community-owned event space. Bob Cacciotti, on behalf of the group of citizens, had presented the proposal to council at a meeting in September.
At a council meeting last week, Mayor Ian Anderson told the meeting, “Good evening, Mr. Cacciotti. Further to your delegation presentation of September 21, 2020, I can offer the following answers on behalf of all council to your proposal.”
“The Old Church on the Hill is, as its name suggests, old,” said Mayor Anderson. “One hundred and thirty-nine years and counting, built in 1881. It may be the oldest existing building in our community and one of the oldest on Manitoulin.”
“The township is the sole owner of the Old Church on the Hill property, inclusive,” continued Mayor Anderson. “The obligation, in common with all municipal decisions and actions, is to consider the greatest good to the greatest number, or alternatively, the least harm to the smallest number and this must be applied to the municipality as a whole.”
“Several questions needed to be answered,” Mayor Anderson told the meeting. “Does the Old Church on the Hill, in its current state, represent potential to contribute to community development? Council believes it does.”
“Could this potential to contribute to community development be furthered if it were enhanced or improved in some way. Again, the answer from council is yes,” said Mayor Anderson. “It is recognized by council that, practically, this building could reasonably accommodate, at best, three-season usage.”
“The very small acreage of the property and the fact that it is built on very shallow soil over solid limestone would make the installation of a septic bed and water lines both challenging and potentially costly, but not impossible. The useable space is approximately a half acre,” explained Mayor Anderson.
Mayor Anderson pointed out, “all of council and staff have worked diligently over the past two weeks and a very clear message emerged from the public. There was anecdotally an overwhelming desire to see the Old Church remain owned by the municipality and a desire to see this building maintained and used as much as practical.”
It was agreed by council that much more public input should be sought on how best to protect this historical asset and at the same time how it can best be used to its fullest potential, continued Mayor Anderson.
“Therefore, on behalf of council, I thank you again for your proposal and although our municipality will not be divesting ourselves of the Old Church I urge you and your group to participate in further public input as we move forward,” added Mayor Anderson.
Mr. Cacciotti told the Recorder after the meeting, “the Billings community group I represented were very disappointed at council’s response. Our proposal would have put the Old Church on the Hill to good use for the community. Instead it just sits there as it has done since the township bought it in 2018. In fact, the asset management committee responsible for the church have not even met once since the inception of this council; therefore, it’s obvious that they have no plan whatsoever for the Old Church on the Hill.”
“As part of their response, they stated they would consult the community about what good use could be made of the church, just as we specified we would do in our presentation,” said Mr. Cacciotti. “We sincerely hope that a committee of council steps up to fundraise and apply for available funding to improve and maintain the church so that our taxes don’t inexplicably go up again.”