Port McNeill mayor and council. (Derek Koel photo)

Port McNeill mayor and council. (Derek Koel photo)

Port McNeill council finishes off the year with jam-packed agenda full of town business

Derek Koel recaps the entire Dec. 13 meeting of Port McNeill council

Written by Derek Koel

(Politi-Koel, local politics)

Port McNeill council’s Dec. 13 meeting kicked off with a request from the North Island Crisis and Counselling Center Society (NICCCS) for $20,000 from the town’s $888,000 COVID-19 grant-in-aid pool of money.

Coun. Leighann Ruel excused herself right away, sighting conflict of interest concerns.

This one-time grant stream came about back in November 2020, when the province awarded the town $888k, based on a per capita formula, to help address the increased covid related expenses municipalities were facing at the time. Last term’s council determined 30 per cent of the funds would go toward vulnerable persons, defined by the COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant as: persons living with disabilities, mental illness or addiction, or persons experiencing homelessness or other vulnerable persons.

NICCCS reported that service demand in Port McNeill has exploded. There are 16 employees working in the town, with only one small space to work out of, and it doesn’t allow them to run multiple programs at once.

The society has been looking for a new space for over a year and has now secured a long-term lease at an unspecified Port McNeill location for Jan. 1. They are asking the town to fund $20,000 worth of leasehold improvements to the space, for items like flooring, wall/office construction and a wheelchair accessible washroom. The society indicated it would cover security, furniture, fridge, a microwave and dishwasher expenses.

Coun. Ann-Marie Baron suggested the conversation be moved to in-camera “since we’re already going in under property,” referring to Section 90 E of the Community Charter which refers to: the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality.

With that, the conversation was put on hold and the funding request was moved to the end of the meeting, for a closed door discussion.

Last term’s council did not go in-camera to discuss and approve a very similar COVID-19 grant request from the Gate House Theatre. In fact, the grant money was awarded for capital leasehold improvements on a privately owned, third party leased space.

For those not initiated on in-camera meetings, basically it’s the meeting after the meeting that is closed to the public, although members of the public could be part of the meeting, all involved must never speak about what was said and how the decision was made. It has to officially be declared ahead of time and be on the agenda, it usually has to do with land, legal or labour, as they say, but there’s a big list of other reasons too. Sometimes the motions and decisions made will never be made public, other times they are released under the agenda item “items from in-camera to be made public.”

The next item on the agenda was actually made public from an in-camera discussion. Brenda Johnson is now officially both the Chief Administrative Officer and the Chief Financial Officer for the Town of Port McNeill. While in the CFO role, Johnson had replaced outgoing CAO Pete Nelson-Smith in June on a temporary basis. Instead of two separate positions, it appears the town has morphed the two jobs into one.

As for Old School gym, council was unanimously in favour of waiving the rental fee for a six-month trial period for free mini-tennis and pickle ball sessions hosted by local resident Kathy Poon.

But will the gym have suitable heat?

Yes, the Old School heating issue was back, armed with the information council had requested, meaning it was decision time. To recap, staff suggested nine heat pumps be added, and council previously approved only two of them, pending more information on if the aging boiler would still be needed.

Council heard the building would still need the boiler fired up to provide heat to all of the spaces inside, and that the heat pumps alone won’t do it. With that information, council got cold feet and pulled the plug on the additional seven heat pumps. For this winter, the Old School will be getting two heat pumps to service the most used rooms, and the boiler will limp along, doing it’s best to provide heat to the rest of the building.

Details in the Harbour Report indicated Dock’s E and K are now closed. When the North Island Gazette asked why they were closed, Mayor James Furney responded it was because they “sustained damage from weather and questionable boat operating.”

When asked for more details, Baron added it was “based on an engineering report” from a few months ago and that the dock was “damaged over time.”

The two docks are now closed to boats but open to pedestrians, and no indication was given as to when the docks will again be open to boats.

Soon residents will again have the option to put their town taxes and utility bills on plastic. The previous council had nixed the practice of accepting credit cards for such transactions, but this time around, those wishing to pay any town bill with a credit card (including small transactions like parking, moorage etc.) can do so, but they will now have to pay the credit card transaction fees themselves. The fee will be on top of their bill, and will be processed by a third party payment processor called Option Pay. Council opted to try this for one year.

The new payment policy will likely be passed next meeting. It also spells out what is considered an on time payment. It has to be physically received or transferred into the town’s bank account by the due date or it is subject to late fees. Online banking transactions can take up to five days to clear.

An Economic Development report was perhaps too detailed for Coun. Shelley Downey, as she ended up requesting the items be discussed in-camera at the next meeting in January.

Coun. Michelle Carson, fresh off attending The Vital Conversation on Housing Security event in Campbell River, also wanted to take items off the table and discuss them in-camera, specifically housing issues in the community. All were in favour of doing so.

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City Councilmunicipal politics