TYSON WHITNEY PHOTO                                A report from town Treasurer Dan Rodin said Port McNeill’s senior housing units are fully occupied and there is a demand for more housing.

TYSON WHITNEY PHOTO A report from town Treasurer Dan Rodin said Port McNeill’s senior housing units are fully occupied and there is a demand for more housing.

Housing for seniors in Port McNeill leads to debate

Town agrees to budget $10,000 to develop a plan

A proposal to budget $10,000 for creating a plan to build more seniors housing caused councillors to butt heads at Port McNeill’s regular council meeting.

A proposal from Treasurer Dan Rodin stated the Port McNeill Senior’s Housing Society currently operates 12 housing units and the following issues have been identified:

• The housing units are fully occupied and there is a demand for more;

• People who need to be bathed and need a transfer lift to enter the bath are currently taken from the hospital to Port Hardy;

• The town does not have a purpose-built seniors meeting place;

• and the Old School may be scheduled for demolition within the next 1-5 years. If this occurs then the area currently used by seniors would be no longer available.

According to the proposal, the town could provide some assistance in creating six additional housing units, bathing facilities and a meeting area, with an estimated cost between $1.5 – $2.0 million, depending on final design.

The town would have to donate the land or lease it for $1/year, provide the seed money ($10,000) to obtain architectural drawings and cost estimates and also guarantee a long-term loan from the Municipal Finance Authority.

Port McNeill resident Matt Martin wrote a letter to council prior to the meeting saying he has a “number of concerns which I believe warrants the town to continue discussing this idea, as it deserves further discussion, but not make any financial decisions on Monday night.” Martin added he thinks there was a lack of “engagement/consultation that occurred in creating this proposal,” and there are serious “concerns about some of the assumptions made in the report, a concern that viable alternatives were not seriously considered, and concerns that this may move seniors towards separation/segregation vs. inclusion/integration.”

Martin also stated that it is not clear “where this proposal was discussed in any public forum up until now… Beyond that, there seems to be a pattern of the town proposing projects as separate proposals, which denies residents the ability to provide input about the bigger picture/vision for the town. If we are talking strictly about health and seniors though, how do we know that this is the best use of $1.5 million, and how can the public provide their input?”

During the Monday night meeting, Coun. Shelley Downey asked why this proposal came from the town’s administrator instead of from the seniors’ housing society.

“They have $45,000 in funds, so why are we fronting the cost of exploring this instead of having the seniors’ housing society front it themselves?”

Mayor Shirley Ackland said the society has money in their bank “to look at maintenance, because they will have to look at replacing a roof.”

Coun. Aaron Frost asked if there might be any community groups who would want to help fund this instead of it coming from just the town.

Count. Jay Dixon wondered why anyone was even questioning this.

“We need to respect individuals who have helped to build Port McNeill, who have paid multiple years of taxes… I agree we need to look at involving other partners, but someone needs to step forward and say we respect the seniors in our community.”

Dixon added by helping the seniors society create “a plan for something to happen, it is not only respectful to our seniors, but also demonstrates we’re committed to following up on aspects of our economic development program… $10,000 is not a lot of money.”

Ackland stated she believes the seniors need support from this community and council to move forward, “and I think this would do it. It actually brings the process forward and builds a plan where we can get some money set aside for it.”

Downey asked to bring the issue to their budget meeting on Wednesday. Council agreed to the request.

In a follow up letter to the town, Martin said the proposal has flaws and things to consider.

“Port McNeill has already built two phases of senior’s housing. This would be the third. Then what? Was that the plan? Is there a plan?”

He added he does think Port McNeill should go about developing a senior’s housing and health strategy, but he wants to see it done differently.

“I understand the argument that we should move ahead with a plan out of respect for seniors, but there would be nothing more disrespectful, to everyone including seniors, than spending a bunch of money moving ahead with a flawed plan. Hitting the pause button was the right thing to do.”

At the Wednesday meeting, Downey said she was unaware at the previous meeting of the society’s $45,000 being committed to a new roof. Her other question was around financial statements, “because there are none… If the town is going to be putting money in, we need to get financial statements.”

Rodin said the town actually does all the bookkeeping for the society, and he will prepare the financial statements for council.

Council approved the $10,000 for the 2017 budget to develop a plan for the senior’s housing society to build more housing and amenities.

Senior’s housing society board member Pat Horgan said $10,000 being committed to the budget is phenomenal for Port McNeill seniors.

“The old school where many of them meet might be demolished, and they’re anxious about where they would gather. To reduce social isolation, they need to have a place to gather.”

He added the difference between Port McNeill and all of the other communities on the North Island, “is the seniors have their own facility. Port McNeill is the only one that does not.”

Horgan said this is the first step in helping Port McNeill seniors get more housing and amenities.