NORTH ISLAND GAZETTE FILE PHOTO OF COUNCIL A report from Town of Port McNeill staff noted that gas tax money received from the Province had, over the years, been used to subsidize and therefore keep expenses lower than the actual cost.

Water utility bill increase coming for Port McNeill residents?

Councillor Derek Koel feels a user-pay system that covers actual costs is necessary.

Residents of Port McNeill could be facing an increase in their water utility bill next year as town council is considering changes to the town’s previous practice of subsidizing the actual cost of providing water.

At the Nov. 4 council meeting, a report from staff noted that gas tax money received from the province had, over the years, been used to subsidize and therefore keep expenses lower than the actual cost.

The town’s interim financial officer Bob Godwin stated: “The fees you [the Town] should collect should pay for the water. I don’t think it should be supplemented by money received from the government that is usually used or meant for specific kinds of projects.”

He went on to explain, “From the point of view of operational logic, water should support itself through the fees that you charge.”

Coun. Derek Koel felt a user-pay system that covered actual costs was necessary, saying, “I totally agree that it should be self-supportive.”

Coun. Shelley Downey reminded council of last year’s budget planning where the issue was identified, explaining: “I think we actually touched on this a year ago but no action was taken.”

When asked whether or not council should be considering a full user-pay model, and if so, whether it would be phased in or be fully implemented in 2020, Mayor Gaby Wickstrom replied: “That’s a good question. I think I will be better able to answer that once we have had our committee of the whole meeting.”

That meeting, which begins the budgeting process for 2020, will take place on Nov. 12.

In other news, council voted against a request from the Gate House Community Association for a $5,000 grant. The money was to be used as part of a $40,000 project to upgrade the sound and lighting systems in the theatre. The Association had applied to Creative BC for $20,000 with the other half needing to be raised within the community.

In the discussion leading up to the decision, Downey was concerned about the size of the request, explaining the $5,000, “represented a quarter of the total annual budget for all community donations.” She along with Coun. Ann-Marie Baron felt that was a significant amount for just one organization.

Coun. Ryan Mitchell expressed his appreciation for all the work the Gate House has undertaken, but felt the request was too much too soon, stating: “Maybe they just got to rest on their laurels for a year and do this project when they can raise a bit of money.”

The amount of the request was also of concern to Koel, who stated: “I’m inclined to say no at this time but willing to look at it again if they end up being short or are in danger of losing their grant and can show community support and investment in the project.”

The vote to decline the grant request was unanimous.

With the ongoing forestry strike continuing to make for challenging times for many in the community, council decided to cancel their annual staff holiday dinner and use the funds saved to support local residents. The event normally costs the town approximately $1,000 and a motion was passed to instead spend $100 to purchase turkeys for the ‘Lift Your Spirits’ community dinner, with the remaining $900 to be donated to the Gazette Christmas Hamper Fund.

The next regular Town Council meeting will be held on Nov. 18 at 7:00 p.m. and the agenda is available online.

– Bill McQuarrie article

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