TYSON WHITNEY FILE PHOTO OF COUNCIL Port McNeill council voted to move ahead with downtown improvements, despite the provincial government reallocating rural grant funds.

Port McNeill to move forward with Downtown Improvement Initiative

Council voted to backstop the project by allocating up to an additional $10,000.

Plans for Port McNeill’s Downtown Improvement Initiative will move forward despite the Provincial Government’s decision to temporarily suspend BC Rural Dividend grants.

At the Oct. 7 town council meeting, mayor and council agreed on a three-part plan that would see this initiative continue to develop.

The province, originally expected to contribute $10,000 to the program, had unexpectedly announced last month that all funding under the Rural Dividend Fund was being redirected to assist the BC Interior’s forestry crisis. It was further explained that the Port McNeill project would not come up for reconsideration until at least 2020/2021.

Despite this announcement from Victoria, the Island Coastal Economic Trust did confirm they had approved the town’s grant application for $15,000. Port McNeill’s original contribution of $5,000 was also confirmed. Given that council felt this project was an important part of the town’s economic development strategy, they voted to backstop the project by allocating up to an additional $10,000. The money will come from an existing budget that is set aside for planning, and not new tax dollars. The town will also reapply for funding from the province, once the Rural Dividend fund is again made available to all communities within BC.

In addition to increasing their grant, council agreed to move forward with soliciting businesses to see if they too would be willing to increase their participation.

Council also approved the creation of a select committee for The Downtown Improvement Planning Initiative. Members of the committee will be: Mayor Gaby Wickstrom, Councillors Derek Koel and Ryan Mitchell, Kim Lefebvre, Pita Rosback, Liza Furney and Jessica McLaughlin.

In other business, second and third readings were given to the Permissive Property Tax Exemption Bylaw, exempting specified properties from having to pay property tax. A motion by Koel to limit approvals to a one-year term was defeated and council approved the standard four year exemptions for: Bishop of Victoria, United Church of Canada, Full Gospel Church, Port McNeill Baptist Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Broughton Curling Club, Royal Canadian Legion, Guide/Scout Hall, Port McNeill Lions Club and Broughton Strait Campground.

Council voted to support a funding application for the 2020 Community Resiliency Investment (CRI) program that would enable the development of a wildfire resiliency plan for the town. In response to the increasing risks posed by wildfires, the CRI program, launched in 2018 and funded through the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM), provides a grant of $25,000 to assist in risk assessment and reduction with an emphasis on fuel management on provincial crown lands. A motion put forward by Mitchell to delay the purchase of bear proof garbage cans for the downtown area was defeated in a tied vote. Mitchell was concerned that local contractors hadn’t had an opportunity to bid on the project. Town staff explained that in consultation with other municipalities and the local conservation officer, design parameters had been modified and there were no local contractors with the capacity to manufacture bins meeting those new specifications.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Oct. 21 at 7:00 p.m. and the public is welcome to attend.

– Bill McQuarrie article

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