Meeting held May 2, 2023
Council received two petitions. The first was submitted by Réjean Venne, calling for the re-instatement of Coun. Anne Tessier to the Au Château Board of Directors. Tessier, who was removed from that board last month by resolution of council, was not present at the council meeting. Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon explained that, while the petition was received, “Because the subject matter is a reconsideration of a decision already taken by resolution of Council … procedural bylaw will govern this matter.” The bylaw stipulates that to reopen discussion on the matter, one of the seven members who voted in favour of adopting the new committee assignments had to propose it, then 2/3 of council had to vote in favour of revisiting the matter. No member of council moved to reopen the matter.
The second petition presented was requesting repairs to a culvert on Montreal and Abitibi streets. Mayor Thorne Rochon said that matter will come forward at the next council meeting, under Public Works. It is typical that petitions are received at one council meeting and discussed at the following meeting if the matter has not already been voted on.
Equipment more costly than anticipated
CAO Jay Barbeau indicated that budget forecasts for equipment purchases are now proving too optimistic due to inflation. “We’re in trouble”, he said. The budget allocated $390K for the purchase of a new grader. “It came in at $616K with a trade-in… a difference of about $180,000-ish [from what was budgeted].” The recommendation was to forgo the purchase of a street sweeper this year. “It’s not ideal, but we don’t have the money… We absolutely need to order a grader.”
Coun. Fern Pellerin questioned the size of the grader ordered, a six-wheel drive. Barbeau handed the response off to Fire Chief Frank Loeffen as having more expertise in the area of heavy equipment. Loeffen said the grader ordered would have more traction, with less chance of sinking into softer materials, easier to pull back and steer with multiple drives. Pellerin responded that the municipality has “done 20 years with the government graders and they are even heavier than they were 20 years ago. For me, we don’t need a 6-wheel.” Barbeau said this was the equipment council agreed to, which was tendered out, but if council wanted to consider another option they could do so. However, “Our weather patterns are getting to be such that we’re having a hard time keeping up… the future is a little different now and the expectations from our public, they’re not overly patient anymore, to say the least… The issue is to guarantee service and dependable service.”
Mayor Thorne Rochon noted that the tendered bid was a huge increase on one piece of equipment, and asked if there were more equipment items coming up that could see more shocking price hikes. Director of Corporate Service Alisa Craddock responded that other budgeted-for equipment were not such large items, and other such huge increases were not expected, but “I do expect that this is going to be a trend we see …A challenging year.” Barbeau noted that further tenders will be closing in the following week, which may be more indicative of coming trends.
A policy is under review for the selling of surplus municipal lands. Municipal Clerk Melanie Ducharme presented a document outlining such available properties that could be declared surplus, to raise the topic for discussion. “The purpose of this was to basically see if we can establish some sort of strategy where [council would] declare 5 or 10 properties surplus per year and go through the process …We do have a lot of them and admittedly some of them really aren’t suitable… We’ve seen in a variety of reports that we do have a housing shortage and we have land that… could be repurposed.”
Mayor Thorne Rochon liked the idea of developing a policy tied to economic development long-term goals and a housing strategy. Coun. Kris Rivard noted that, strategically, small bits of land without much value to anyone other than adjacent land owners could be offered to those landowners. Additionally, “The one that really stuck out was [the] Festival Parking area (Lang Park). … near the railway, not necessarily prime location, but at least something could come of it. The other one would be the Pi-Douze Park and baseball field.” He said the land is no longer used much and any funds garnered could be used to enhance other areas, such as the Goulard Park development. “We’re looking to try and consolidate our assets.”
Coun. Roch St-Louis was assured, upon questioning, that any public land sales could have conditions attached. Coun. Gagné asked that other areas in the municipality also be looked into for potential, to which Clerk Ducharme responded, “Unfortunately the land we own in the outlying areas… is mostly already boat launches and things like that. We inherited them at the time of amalgamation. The vast majority of… developable surplus is in Field, Cache Bay, Sturgeon and Verner because those were the organized municipalities and a lot of them came from failed tax sales where …there were no bids (…) or properties that were given as parkland dedication in subdivisions… There’s a variety of reasons why we own them.”
The strategy suggested by Barbeau was to look at the “odds and ends” that are likely only of interest to adjacent landowners, as well as the more marketable lands. “You’re the custodians for the 14,500 people and you want to make sure when you declare property surplus that you don’t have any future need for it… It’s better to take your time on this.” He said staff would come back periodically with suggestions, including what to do with Lang Park, “Whether we want to keep it for affordable housing.” The other concern was setting policy to stop speculators from purchasing public land to flip. Mayor Thorne Rochon suggested that marketable municipal lands be sold on the basis of specific development proposals. “That’s the part that interests me, and that’s on a property-by-property basis.” Ducharme indicated that staff would present potential surplus properties on a monthly basis for review by council.
Filling vacant council seats
Council discussed a policy to deal with any vacancies if such should arise, so as to avoid the difficulties presented in the last council term, “So that we don’t deal with the worst-case scenario, and have a clear defined path to how those things should be handled,” said Mayor Thorne Rochon. Three options were presented, including by-election, appointment of runner-up and appointment by council following application review. Council, by majority, rejected the runner-up scenario, noted the costs of a by-election, and mostly favoured council appointment.
Coun. Dan Gagné noted that his preference for the appointment option was that “It’s going to be faster, less costly and technically everybody can apply to actually put their name in… We’ll give the opportunity to numerous individuals to put their name forward.”
Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon said that she didn’t want a vote that evening, as there were two council members missing (Anne Tessier and Jamie Restoule), but noted that the consensus was to go with appointment. She did have one question, “When we look at the process at the last term, we went through the appointment by application process and at the end of the process there was still a 4-4 tie (…). The policy that you write will have language surrounding what the method of breaking that tie would be, is that correct?” Staff indicated the policy would include that scenario as well. The policy proposal will come back to the next meeting with the full council present.
Recreation and Culture Advisory Committee
Council reviewed applications for members to the newly formed Recreation & Culture Advisory Committee and appointed seven members: Tina Bouffard, Katherine Clark, Gayle Primeau, Christine Dumont, Alain Gingras, Sonia Hotte, and Nathan Sauvé.
Funding request denied
A market in Verner requested financial assistance of $700 to support a portable washroom facility for the season. Coun. Rivard asked, “Is this a non-profit or private vendor? Do we pay for markets elsewhere?” Clerk Ducharme said she had no information about the market or the vendors. Coun. Gagne pointed out, “They are estimating 30 vendors – the cost should be taken by potential vendors,” he suggested. Councillors in turn said more information was needed, and they did not wish to set a precedent. The request was denied.