A public consultation process regarding proposed harbour rates was held prior to Port McNeill’s regular town council meeting on Monday, Nov. 21.
Port McNeill Mayor Shirley Ackland opened up the consultation process by welcoming the large crowd of residents who had come out to make a public comment.
Mayor Ackland then introduced Harbour Manager Pete Nelson-Smith, who explained the backstory behind the proposed rate changes.
“In the beginning of the year when I was hired, one of the things council had on the agenda was to look at rate increases,” said Nelson-Smith, adding that he was “by resolution given the task to look at all the harbours up and down the coast and come up with some suggestions for rate increases.”
Nelson-Smith noted that the paperwork the audience had in front of them “is the result of that work. I want to keep emphasizing the word ‘suggestions’, because I got the feeling from some of the interactions I’ve had that this is set in stone. A lot of the rationales are my thoughts on it, and today we are looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the proposed increases.”
Doug Anweiler was the first resident to give a speech regarding the proposed rates, stating he feels “the municipal marina is a recreational service managed by the Town for its residents,” and that it should be treated the same as the other properties like the pool, library, and the ice rink.”
Anweiler added that he would like to see the harbour rates reduced. “Our rates are already higher than Port Hardy, Campbell River, and Powell River.”
“The harbour is barely breaking even at this point in time, and that is only if there isn’t any significant maintenance,” said Treasurer Dan Rodin, adding that he’d be more than willing to sit down and go over the harbours’ financial numbers with anyone who was interested. “In my professional opinion, the harbour isn’t making any money.”
Ann Marie Baron was the next speaker, stating she’d like to see the Town “consider not closing this public consultation process tonight,” adding that she wants to see it kept open to the public “or directed through to the harbour advisory committee, which then the public could have their input in.”
Baron continued on, adding that “some of the things I’d like to see considered before the draft rates become bylaw is the 2015-2016 financials for the municipal harbour and the federal harbour, I’d like to see a business plan including an accurate assessment of the inventory and any maintenance or replacement requirements. I’d like to see budgets for the ongoing maintenance, including that business plan, and a designation for contingency funds.”
She also stated that she “would like to put forward to the Mayor and Council to consider the points that this submission states and others that are gathered from this initial consultation,” before concluding with the fact that a “67 per cent increase, for no apparent reason, doesn’t sit well with the regular working guy. They would rather spend the $10 on gas to drive up to Port Hardy to the beautiful concrete pad that you can use free of charge, with free parking, and the Bait Shack right there, and you can use it at all times. They would rather do that than launch here, and we don’t want that.”
Brian Hiebert spoke next. “The increase as far as I’m concerned is too high. As everybody knows, wages aren’t really going up, and there’s not more money in the community. Which basically tells me that any type of increase is going to affect citizens, and the numbers I’ve seen do not reflect the economics of the community. The rates shouldn’t be increased more than four or five per cent.”
Glenn Robertson stated that he and his wife “bought a boat with the assumption that we’d be able to have affordable, good moorage down here.”
He added that “We live here and we have certain expectations. One thing that concerns me about this is that there’s no detailed financial plan. There’s no business plan, no financials, which is a bit of a problem. This harbour is for the people who live here on the North Island, particularly Port McNeill, it’s one of the few joys that we have – getting out on the ocean, and people from all over the world come here to see it. It’s one of the nicest places in the world. Your proposal would cost me probably about $1,500.”
Councillor Graham MacDonald was the only councillor to attend the meeting in person (Councillor Shelley Downey attended via conference call) and he stated near the end of the consultation that he was quite pleased to see how many residents showed up for the meeting, adding that he was “very happy to see you all expressing your opinions, thank you, to all of you.”
After the public consultation ended, Baron asked what would happen next with regards to the harbour rates.
Mayor Ackland replied that the information would be sent to council and will be coming up at one of their future council meetings.