WRITTEN BY BILL McQUARRIE
At Tuesday’s meeting (Feb. 9), Port McNeill council agreed to fund one-third of the cost for a new battery back-up power system for the Chilton Regional Arena.
Total cost for the project is estimated at $48,000 and the town’s contribution is capped at $16,000 (which will now be included in the 2021 budget), with the Regional District of Mount Waddington paying the remaining $32,000.
Attending the meeting by Zoom, Greg Fletcher, chief administrative officer for the Regional District of Mount Waddington, reviewed the district’s rationale for the need; emphasizing the expanded emergency administrative centre capacities this would provide to both the district and the town.
When asked about the heating and cooling abilities of the proposed enhanced system during a power outage, Fletcher explained: “If the power goes out and there is ice in there, this (the backup system) cannot power the ice plant. So any illusion that you can carry on and play hockey and stuff is not going to happen. But for heating, we just run electric heaters and we already have a backup system for that.”
Noting that the proposed system’s primary use is to allow the arena office to continue operations during power failures, Coun. Ryan Mitchell asked: “What are the direct benefits to the citizens of Port McNeill?”
In explaining his opposition to the funding request, Mitchell reminded other councillors that the town already has an established regional emergency centre with the needed facilities and ability to house and feed people in the [school] gym.
“Duplicating that in a town of 2,400 people? I can’t support that,” stated Mitchell.
Mitchell went on to say: “If we’re using the arena as an emergency centre, we’re taking a freezer and turning it into a place to keep people warm. None of this makes any sense to me and I am completely opposed to it.”
Wanting to know if a ‘no’ vote by the town could be overridden, Coun. Ann-Marie Baron asked if the district’s arena committee could decide to press ahead with the upgrade regardless of a possible decision by council to not support the $16,000 request.
Baron also wanted to know if Port McNeill taxpayers would, despite a ‘no’ vote, still be responsible for the one-third cost through regional district taxation.
Fletcher explained that without Port McNeill’s support the committee could, as Baron pointed out, still recommend moving forward. And if approved by the regional district, the money would be added to next year’s tax levy. However, Fetcher felt it would likely be paid out of the regional district’s reserves.
Coun. Shelley Downey had explained, at a previous meeting, that town funding did not have to come from Port McNeill property taxes, but could instead be paid for out of the new federal/provincial COVID restart funding program.
If it came to that, Baron preferred to see the town’s share taken out of COVID-19 funds, saying it would be the “prudent thing to do,” but was still reluctant about the grant request adding, “I’m not a 100 per cent convinced that this is what needs to happen.”
The motion to support the request that staff include the $16,000 in the 2021 budget process for the battery system was passed three votes to two, with Baron and Mitchell opposing.
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