Port McNeill councillor Leighann Ruel (fourth from the left) was the one who put forth the motion to restrict recording/livestreaming of 2023 budget discussions. (Derek Koel photo)

Port McNeill councillor Leighann Ruel (fourth from the left) was the one who put forth the motion to restrict recording/livestreaming of 2023 budget discussions. (Derek Koel photo)

Port McNeill council agrees to restrict the recording/livestreaming of 2023 budget discussions

Councillor Leighann Ruel put forth the motion, which was approved with no discussion at the table

Written by Derek Koel

Koel Notes

Which Port McNeill councillor is vying for a $10,000 outdoor beach volleyball court as part of council’s budget wish list? What’s the deal with a proposed $50,000 expenditure, over five years, for ‘nature trails’? What exactly is the ‘Passion Project’? How is council justifying the proposed, larger than normal tax increase? We may never know.

Coun. Leighann Ruel made a recommendation at the Feb. 7 Committee of the Whole meeting to not record or livestream the 2023 budget discussions, which means over six hours of planned budget talks will not be recorded and posted on the town’s YouTube channel, as is the usual practice. The meeting went unrecorded, and as a result, the meeting went unreported.

Council quickly ratified Ruel’s motion, with no discussion or debate at the table, making it official at the regular Feb. 14 council meeting.

A member of the public at the meeting asked why the budget discussions are not being livestreamed or recorded. Ruel responded, “it’s my first time going through this” and that she wanted a “free flowing discussion” on the budget and added it would be “just for the budget discussion.”

When asked by the Gazette how the public could stay informed on the budget process, Ruel mentioned the public is still welcome to show up and attend the Tuesday morning meetings, or have someone show up on their behalf, and one could check the meeting minutes. However, the budget meeting minutes do not reveal any details of the meeting, rather they just note the fact that the meeting occurred.

The public and media who attend the public budget meetings are also asked not to record or livestream the meetings.

Less contentious meeting items this month included a meet and great with the BC Salmon Farmers Association who were in the virtual house, giving a 20-minute presentation. After a prompting from Coun. Shelley Downey as to what council could do for them, they asked the town to provide “political support.”

The Port McNeill Cat Rescue Society was asking for $5,000 for the ongoing care of local cats and to cover veterinary bills. The grant request got set aside after concerns from council emerged about what to do about the general feral cat issue in town and the lack of the societies coordination with Port McNeill’s contracted animal control officer. The discussion also touched on Port McNeill’s infamous cat license bylaw which generates very little revenue for the town and, over the years, has seen little to no uptick in cats being registered.

The Wild Heart Music program pitched for monetary support from the town for their Wild Songs of the Sea Festival, May 5-7, to be held in Port McNeill. Council approved the societies $2500 request, which will eat up 25 per cent of council’s proposed 2023 grant-in-aid budget. The money will go toward the reported $30,000 in event expenses.

The proposed Rogers Cellular Phone tower for downtown Port McNeill was back on council’s table recently. The previous mayor and council were not in support, and after more public consultation, Rogers came back to the table, however it was essentially the same plan.

This time around, the majority of council were not concerned with the aesthetics or height of the proposed tower. Staff was directed to ask Rogers about their 5G health concerns, the proximity of the proposed tower to the nearby helicopter port on Beach Drive, and the company’s plans for more, possibly taller, towers in the future.

Canada Post is looking to expand the local post office. The company has plans to add a 1000 square foot shipping/receiving warehouse to the existing location. A staff report states, “Staff have done extensive research on this building and the surrounding neighbourhood and have concerns about the impacts future expansion of the facility will have on the area.”

Councill was not thrilled with the plan either. Mayor James Furney summed it up, “they have outgrown that location, I would say we push them hard to relocate themselves.”

Staff have been tasked to go back to Canada Post with the suggestion that they relocate to “an established industrial business park outside of the downtown area.”

Back to the budget. After two budget meetings, notable items on the docket for 2023 include funding a public water fountain at the waterfront, rainbow/first nations crosswalks somewhere in town, community engagement and nature trails.

Longterm budget plans include the outdoor beach volleyball court, kayak float, historical signage, more nature trails and fencing on Campbell way.

Several draft budget line items do not yet have funding allocations or timelines assigned, they include; Old School redevelopment, Active Community Center, Harbour recycling facilities, floating breakwater extension, and sidewalks.

This year’s planned expenditure of $330,000 to upgrade the town’s portable water system will not go ahead due to an unsuccessful grant application. A staff report suggests the surplus funds could be used to offset the planned 3.5 per cent general property tax increase, but the report also suggests the option of funding several new expenditures instead of the tax break, with the balance of $212,000 being socked away in the ‘General Reserves’ category.

That issue was deferred for the third round of budget discussions, slated for March 7.

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