Meeting held March 21, 2023
Chair of the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board (DNSSAB), Mark King, along with CAO Catherine Matheson and several department heads, brought WN council members up to speed on the services and structure of the board, along with how costs and services are apportioned among member municipalities. The question arose as West Nipissing taxpayers are the second largest financial contributor after North Bay, to the tune of $3.467 million. The board is comprised of 12 members, 6 from North Bay, one from West Nipissing (Coun. Jamie Restoule), four from South Algonquin, East Ferris, Temagami, unorganized territory north and south, and one from the eastern cluster of Mattawa, Bonfield, Calvin, Chisholm, Mattawan and Papineau-Cameron.
CAO Matheson explained that the majority of their work is provincially mandated: Ontario Works, Children’s Services, Paramedic Services and Housing. “We deliver to 85,000 people in an extremely large area (17,000 sq km),” she said, covering 11 municipalities, 2 First Nations and smaller communities in unorganized areas. The organization operates two housing properties in Sturgeon Falls and one each in Field and Verner, and 45 scattered family units.
Melanie Shaye told council that NDSSAB is obliged to offer French-language services and is committed to making sure those services are available in all of their offices. David Plumstead, manager of Planning Outcomes, advised that the board is busy developing a strategic plan, “relatively new”, to remove any barriers and assure seamless access to all citizens. Michelle Glabb, Director of Social Services and Employment, oversees Ontario Works. She indicated that as of February 2023 they had a case load of 1808, with 2922 recipients (adults and dependent children) of which 242 resided in West Nipissing. Lynn Démoré-Pitre, Director of Children’s Services said that 94 families and 145 children in West Nipissing were receiving NDSAAB-operated/funded childcare services, while Tracy Ann Bethune of the Nipissing District Housing Corp. said they own 896 units in Nipissing, of which 150 low-income housing units are in West Nipissing.
Tyler Venable of Housing Services clarified that the organization is responsible for administering and funding a ‘housing continuum’, from homelessness to housing stabilization all the way to home ownership, with 2809 in assisted housing including 626 in West Nipissing. He said, “West Nipissing accounts for 17% of the population and holds 22.3% of housing stock and subsidies administered by NDSSAB.” Donna Mayer, Project Development, addressed the lobbying efforts for new housing developments, with parties vying for funds through the National Housing Strategy. “We run requests for proposals, or coach developers so they can access the provincial funding.”
Mayor Kathleen Thorn Rochon questioned the apportionment of representation on the board. “We are the second largest contributor after North Bay… If we were equal to North Bay we would have 1.84 seats,” she noted, asking if there would be a review. Mark King said the board make-up hasn’t been amended in 9 years, and mentioned that former councillor Dan Roveda addressed the same issue during his tenure on the board. Catherine Matheson suggested a governance review would be better achieved through discussion with the province. Mayor Thorne Rochon expressed her thanks “for all that you do” on behalf of council.
Municipal Housing Strategy
Paul Hicks and Jesse McPhail of Republic Urbanism presented an overview of the West Nipissing Housing Strategy, which is to guide the municipality for the next 10 years. Part of their work was to examine the current situation and the extreme pressures on housing across the spectrum, from emergency shelters to market rate housing. Hicks told council, “West Nipissing is particularly challenged by high costs, low vacancy and lack of choice for residents… with an over-representation to home ownership.” In doing their background work they consulted with 300 community members, “Something to be proud of” in terms of community engagement, said Hicks.
Among the key findings was the need to diversify the type of housing in WN, and of concern was that 20% of households are spending more than 30% of their income on housing, which puts them at financial risk. One of the recommendations was to give someone in municipal administration a “housing portfolio”, to trace and monitor rental units in the municipality with more frequent data collection, determine what kind of housing stock is in play. Also recommended was a “short-term rental bylaw” because such things as Air B&Bs “can have negative effects on housing stock”, and institute rental-protective demolition to protect existing rental units from premature demolition.
They also suggested changes to planning and zoning bylaws to address affordability when it comes to development, and that the municipality take a more active role by utilizing the Community Improvement Plan (CIP) to support affordable housing development rather than Main Street commerce. Another suggestion was to inventory and review municipal lands, “WN owns a considerable amount of land… undertake a fulsome in-depth analysis and catalogue sites suitable for developement; shovel-ready sites for affordable housing on public land”, work closely with housing agencies and “fast track affordable housing approvals” while considering “waiving fees… for particular types of housing.”
It was also suggested the municipality engage more with housing providers, communicate with organizations that deal with at-risk populations, advocate and lobby for funding from other levels of government, and exercise builder and contractor recruitment – even going so far as to approach contractors in neighboring communities and ask them if they would consider building in West Nipissing.
It was projected that with current trends, 1145 more dwellings will be needed in the next 10 years. Coun. Kris Rivard said he found this “alarming” when combined with the statistic that 20% of residents were paying too much, over 30% of income, for their housing. “Is it only going to get worse?” he asked. Jesse McPhail advised that the document they produced is “static” and the point of having a housing person on staff “is to keep an eye on those numbers – those targets may shift. We’d encourage the municipality to keep tabs on it year to year.” Mayor Thorne Rochon noted the considerable participation in this endeavor, and noted that currently the municipality limits structures to three stories, which may have to change. “There are a lot of things we can do with the zoning bylaw.”
Fire Master Plan
Council approved a request by WN Fire Chief Frank Loeffen to conduct a Fire Master Plan for the municipality. The town received money through the Municipal Modernization Fund, so the project will not affect the municipal budget. The idea is to develop a long-term strategic framework to deliver fire services over the next 10 years, examining service levels, the geography and demography, fire safety education, and risk assessment. The plan would see a 3rd party consultant hired to complete a risk assessment and fire master plan in one document. Coun. Dan Gagné asked Chief Leoffen if there was a plan in place currently, to which Chief Loeffen responded that it was inadequate, too simplified. “This one is more comprehensive – equipment, training programs, amount of risk, wildland fires, downtown fires… There are more wildland fires… Do we have the resources, the capabilities? This plan looks at all of that – here we are, here’s what we have to build.” Responding to a question from the mayor, he said once the expenditure is approved a plan should be in place by spring of 2024. Coun. Roch St-Louis added that, following the housing strategy presentation, “With 1200 new homes in the next 10 years, the fire department needs to develop a master plan.”
Handicapped parking on roadway denied
Municipal Clerk Melanie Ducharme told council that a petition put forward by a Sturgeon Falls business to have handicapped parking on the street is untenable. “The matter has come up before… The location of dedicated parking does not meet the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) with respect to size of proposed space and off-loading or on-loading could present a risk.” The other issue – “We cannot be dedicating space to a business on a public road… The property owner does have room on their own property – and municipality does support through enforcement… The recommendation is that owner reconfigure parking on their own site, then it could be dedicated to their own patrons and can be enforced by municipality.” The request was denied.
Mix-up leads to review of ice rental policy
Coun. Anne Tessier took up the cause for a disgruntled group of citizens who thought they had rented ice for their event and then found out that they didn’t have the ice they wanted because the arena was already rented. The mistake was attributed to a communication error, incorrectly posting that the ice was free on the online calendar. Tessier said that after reviewing the policy, her main criticism was the lack of communication within management to assure the calendar was accurate and it was known within management how the ice was allocated. Director of Community Services, Stephan Poulin, noted, “It is contentious, one of the most contentious things we deal with,” while adding that “The policy has served us well, but user groups have to understand the policy.”
CAO Barbeau came down in defense of staff, citing the incident as “a small communication error… The user groups are fully informed as to when they are supposed to book and how they are supposed to book… One group booked as per policy – the department failed to notify the calendar – we can amend that once a request is approved, that it will be put on calendar as soon as practical – there is a lot of miscommunication on what happened, and I am going to defend staff on that.”
Tessier concurred, saying, “With calendar updated ASAP that would help.” Coun. Kris Rivard commented, “It’s difficult to please all the user groups, prime location, prime time, prime dates… Mistakes may have been made – it’s a good opportunity to tighten up on the gray areas.” Council agreed to have the ice time policy reviewed.
No More Tears
A community group called No More Tears requested the use of public parking space for an event on April 2nd, in downtown Sturgeon Falls. The event is to collect items for persons who are in danger of homelessness or are homeless, or anyone in need. Coun. Jamie Restoule called it “a good-hearted initiative in the community”, and the group received council’s approval to block a few parking spaces for the collection.
Brown’s Island subdivision approved
Council reviewed over 100 pages of documentation including multiple concerns over a proposed subdivision on Brown’s Island, located in the headwaters of the French River. The original application came forward as a zoning amendment, and was subsequently reduced to 8 lots in excess on one hectare each. Because of the volume of documentation, Coun. Jérôme Courchesne asked for a deferral, which was defeated. It was determined that an archeological survey would be conducted, at the behest of Dokis First Nation, and several conditions were placed on the approval. An environmental assessment with focus on fish habitat and water quality, proper septic systems, and a 15-metre vegetative buffer in front of the shoreline are all part of the package. Coun. Rivard asked that the buffer be amended to allow a 6-metre pathway to the shoreline to accommodate building and access. The amendment was adopted. Coun. Courchesne asked for a recorded vote. All of council, excepting Courchesne, voted for the project to proceed.