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Busy Town of Port McNeill agenda keeps mayor and council focused on tasks at hand

The meeting ended with new/old business on the Old School Recreation Center
Port McNeill council from left to right: Ann-Marie Baron, Michelle Carson, Mayor James Furney, Leighann Ruel, and Shelley Downey. (Derek Koel photo)


Politi-Koel, local politics

The Town of Port McNeill’s Nov. 22 council meeting saw mayor and councillors greeted by an online delegation, the Connective Support Society (formally the Nanaimo John Howard Society) and BC Rent Bank.

The Rent Bank provides 24 month, no interest loans, including payment deferrals, to help with life’s ‘financial snags’ and to ‘keep people housed.’ Loans cover bills like rent and overdue utilities, but also allow for security deposits and the first month’s rent.

The nonprofit society gets 80 per cent of it’s funding from the Provincial Government and is proposing various Vancouver Island communities kick in the other 20 per cent. Loans would be based on need, not proportional to population or the contribution of the individual communities. They are asking for an annual flat rate of $10,000 from communities like Port McNeill.

On the island, independent BC Rent Banks operate in the Comox Valley, Victoria and Nanaimo/RDN area. Currently the rest of the island is serviced, via online, by the BC Rent Bank in Kamloops. The Nanaimo group is poised to expand and cover the rest of the island, including the North Island. They stressed they work with social agencies and the local community to find their clients additional supports and resources beyond just assisting with their housing issues.

Mayor James Furney asked about the 60 per cent payback rate on the loans. The delegation explained that 60 per cent is the provincial average and a higher payback rate would mean they are not targeting the right people, those in need.

Council peppered the delegation with questions, but at the end of the day took no action as there was no directive for staff, or motion. The society wants the Rent Bank up and running for April 1.

In other town news, the streets are going LED. BC Hydro is springing for new LED streetlights on their poles, which are mounted on all of the wooden poles in town. They will be converted to LED lighting by 2025. The town is responsible for it’s 73 streetlights, they are on all of the metal poles, those existing non-LED street lights are slowly getting replaced as they burn out with new LED lights called Cobra Heads.

Next up, two agenda items at the harbour, that really morphed into one. The town had multiple bids in on two long standing projects, both were ready to move forward, only to see council apply the brakes.

Parking Lot B is the main parking lot at the harbour, and a report to council explained the approved budget of $70,000 was not enough as costs have risen (the average bid now is $110,000). Coun. Ann-Marie Baron, who was council’s Harbour Advisory Group representative last term, explained the harbour is noted on the coast for being “behind on the times with recycling.”

The project would address this and the unsightly dumpsters at the top of the dock and the related seagull issue. Also, the plan was to bury the overhead powerlines, improve drainage, extend the main retaining wall, clean up views and the other ‘icky pickies’ in the area. Baron noted the project would add parking spots, the idea being that some overnight parking could be reinstated, albeit, just for locals.

However, during the ensuing discussion it came to light the project would not address the ‘King Tide issue’ that floods the gravel parking lot with sea water, threatens the used oil containment area and negatively effects the town’s storm drain infrastructure. Coun. Shelley Downy noted safety concerns and that parks and recreation should be consulted on the project. Baron reminded all about the pending Steam Donkey restoration. Furney expressed his own concerns, stating, “perhaps tossing money onto a half-baked project at the moment is not advisable.”

With that, a motion passed to put the project on hold and reassess at 2023-2024 budget time.

It was pretty much the same for the Harbour Shower and Bathroom Building Upgrade project. The $100,000 budget had bids coming in 25-35 per cent higher than planned. Baron explained the previous council’s decision, that was made amid complaints during COVID-19, was to add modular public bathrooms to the planned new modular shower facility. Ideas and banter around the table ensued, with the consensus being for staff to engage Small Craft Harbours and BC Ferries on a three-way partnership on a shared facility, modular or otherwise.

The meeting ended with new/old business on the Old School Recreation Center. A report noted heat pumps qualify for the $59,000 Climate Action Fund Grant that the town has in hand but has not yet allocated. With funding in place for the two heat pump installations approved at the last meeting, staff upped the ante and asked (again) for the full $30,000 for a total of nine heat pumps to heat and cool the Old School. Coun. Leighann Ruel expressed concerns about past heating issues and how the hot (tap) water would be heated and if the boilers would still be needed for that, but the answer to her question was uncertain. Council voted to table the item in order to get more information from staff.

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