Meeting held July 11, 2023
Re-Opening Verner Municipal Office
Robert Desbiens and David Lewington made a joint presentation to council as an adjunct to a petition requesting the re-opening and staffing of the municipal office in Verner. They argued that opening the office would not be an increased expense and would serve to decentralize municipal operations and create improved access for residents in the area. Lewington gave a couple of examples of requests for service getting lost in the current system, “If you have one person in Verner, who is responsible… the complaint gets resolved or looked after… actually gets the things done that they expect from their local government… If we have a smaller office in satellite locations… they’re a little closer to the community that they serve and they’re more apt to make sure that the message is passed up the chain to the people that should be receiving it… Putting someone back into the office in Verner and making sure that that person knows that they are there to help represent those residents and bring the message to all of you so that you guys and gals are not missing those messages.” Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon confirmed that the petition had been received and the matter would go forward at the next meeting of council, “when staff has an opportunity to prepare.”
Federation of Canadian Municipalities membership
Mayor Thorne Rochon submitted a request to council to consider rejoining the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) after attending a conference. “The FCM conference … took place at the end of May, and I learned that since 2018 we were no longer members. I found the conference and the information provided, the opportunities and the real difference between the kind of provincial level advocacy and the federal level advocacy interesting. And so, I’m bringing this back to council,” she said. CAO Jay Barbeau provided a quick overview of the different organizations the municipality is a member of, and a memorandum from Corporate Services Director Alisa Cradock that said the decision in 2018 was made by that council for “financial and lack of return on investment” reasons.
In 2000, FCM received $100 million in federal funding to set up the Green Municipal Investment Fund and $25 million for the Green Municipal Enabling Fund, and is able to act as a lending agency to municipalities. The estimated cost for membership is $3,500, which Barbeau said would not seriously impact the budget. A package was also submitted to council outlining the advantages of membership. Coun. Kris Rivard asked whether there was a perceived lack of return, to which CAO Barbeau responded that networking through a variety of organizations is beneficial. “We are creatures of the province of Ontario and therefore that’s the majority [of organizational memberships]. When you get into FCM, you’re getting into higher level issues… the ability to network and participate with a variety of challenges where you may not be getting the same kind of cookie cutter information that you would be getting from the Ontario municipalities, when you’re getting best practices from Alberta or PEI.”
Mayor Thorne Rochon told council, “The advocacy… by FCM to the federal government is very different than the provincial government. One of the main focuses for their advocacy revolves around …changing the kind of funding structure model … How the federal government supports municipalities right now, it seems to be piecemeal, it’s done on funding programs. We either have to find projects in our community that meet what their funding objectives are, or we need to wait until the right funding program comes around. Some of the advocacy [attempts] to convince the federal government that municipalities actually need a sustainable, reliable source of funding that is not based just on special programs or projects… The feds have all the money, the provinces make all the rules and the municipalities solve all the problems… Mr. Barbeau says we are a creature of the province; absolutely we are controlled by the legislation that tells us what we need to do and how we need to do it. …They basically make municipalities compete against each other and beg at the table for scraps.”
The mayor was clearly in support of the FCM membership. She added, “I had the opportunity to meet with and speak with people from all over the country, from Vancouver to Alberta to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia… It does not matter where we are in the country, we’re all dealing with very similar problems now… I found it really beneficial to talk to people from across the country about the different ways they approach things, whether it’s housing shortages or whether it’s asset management and asset deficits… We’re all suffering from not enough money and too many responsibilities… We’re more alike than we are different…I had the opportunity to speak with people in other provinces who are on councils of municipalities that are small rural municipalities, that are francophone… I thought that the work that they were doing was good and valuable and one of the ways that we can support that is through membership.”
Council members seemed to consider the matter favourably; the matter will come forward for discussion and decision at the next meeting.
Vehicle for Hire bylaw
Melanie Ducharme, Municipal Clerk, updated council on the proposed Vehicle For Hire bylaw, noting that councillors Anne Tessier and Kris Rivard, along with Mayor Thorne Rochon, attended a consultation session with operators and the public to get input. “Overall, the reception at the public consultation was positive,” she said. “The only real item was the timing for vehicle inspections.” Coun. Tessier wanted a clearer definition of what a “broker” was for purposes of licensing vehicles for hire and avoiding conflict. Clerk Ducharme responded, “You can be an owner and a broker. They’re not mutually exclusive… A broker is someone who takes care of vehicles that are owned by somebody else. They have to pay a broker fee for those vehicles. They also can own and that would make them an owner of their own vehicles,” and licensing fees would be payable for both positions.
Coun. Pellerin wanted to know if the bylaw officer has enforcement capabilities when it comes to safety checks and other regulations. Mayor Thorne Rochon responded, “Yes, because it’s a municipal bylaw, the bylaw enforcement officer has the power in order … and check for driver security, check the license, check the insurance,” and has authority to issue tickets for offenses under the bylaw. Coun. Pellerin also asked if there was a set limit to the number of licenses which could be purchased and was told “The free market will decide how many taxis can be supported and which ones give the best services and who the residents of West Nipissing choose to support. …When we were at the public consultation, we spoke about wanting a … minimalist [approach], as little interference as possible, in the operations business. We’re not setting out which hours they are allowed or have to operate or how many licenses will be issued. The bylaws are being written to provide peace of mind for our residents that when they get in a vehicle from one of our licensed operators, that the drivers have been security checked, that the vehicles have been checked, and that there is valid insurance… That was the approach, and it was well received overall by the providers who participated in the presentation.” A few tweaks to the bylaw were suggested; the final version will come forward and when the bylaw is passed a set fine schedule for infractions will be prepared.
West Nipissing Nonprofit Housing Corporation
At a previous meeting of council, the land formerly known as Lang Park on Coursol Rd., at the east end of Sturgeon Falls, was declared surplus and designated for sale. CAO Barbeau requested that before putting the land up for sale, the town consider partnering with West Nipissing Non-profit Housing to establish an affordable housing development. “Affordable housing is a topic that is very current …the need for affordable housing is essential… I have since had a conversation with the administrator of the Au Château [Jacques Dupuis – also administrator of WN Non-profit Housing]… and he did indicate to us that he would see [Lang Park] …as a good location, potentially, for developing more non-profit housing.” Barbeau related that single-person apartment dwellings are in extreme short supply and are exactly the type of dwellings that would attract and accommodate Personal Support Workers and other health professionals. Barbeau said that the difficulty in recruiting often revolves around lack of housing in West Nipissing, and the Lang Park lands are ideal.
“If you would allow me and the corporation opportunity to pursue and try and develop a little bit more… Our role here at the corporation would be the land, and his role would be the development and the maintenance of it, which it’s not a lot of work for us and satisfies one of this Council’s strategic pillars. So, my recommendation again is … before listing it, pursue the opportunity and have a more fruitful discussion with the members of West Nipissing Non-profit Housing.” Mayor Thorne Rochon concurred, saying “[If] we want to attract our young people back from college and university when they finish their education … they need places to go to as they start their careers, before they’re ready to enter the housing market as a purchaser. Small units that are suitable for single working-age people is really a gap … identified in the housing study that was done for the municipality.”
Coun. Rivard added that the current location “is a real eyesore” and asked if anything could be done in the meantime. CAO Barbeau said he would look into what could be done to clean up the property. Council agreed to leaving the property in a “surplus state” to allow exploration of the option.
Capital project costs skyrocketing
CAO Barbeau provided a list of changes to capital projects budgeted for this year because of unexpected increased costs putting those projects over budget. He said this matter was common to all municipalities currently, that they are “finding it very interesting and challenging to determine the appropriate pricing when we’re budgeting.” The costs on the Eugene Bridge replacement, repairs to John St. bridge, repairs to Lafond Rd bridge, Front St. curb lane repairs, have all been affected. Eugene Bridge was budgeted for $985K in repairs; the bids ranged from $1.9M to $2.2M, delaying the repairs to the 2024 budget year, which also delays the road re-surfacing to 2024.
Alisa Craddock suggested having an earlier budget might provide for more competitive bids in future. The plan is to start the budgeting process for 2024 in November of 2023. “It certainly has been a really interesting year. You know, I’ve been here a lot of years and we’ve not ever had problems this significant.” CAO Barbeau added, “Strategically a lot of municipalities of our size or larger start their budget deliberations in the fall and I think what that will do is provide more competition for our capital if we can get our capital approved …four months earlier and get our documentation out when our suppliers are not necessarily committed yet. I think that it will help our costs.”
Barbeau related that his discussion with the Ministry of Transportation regarding the Champlain Bridge were proving positive, although numerous people are part of the discussion. “We’re still speaking to the ministry officials… This is a lot for a small municipality to undertake, not just financially, but in expertise… The Ministry of Transportation has different divisions within their engineering department… while basically we have one person that does everything. …We really want their assistance and they were very receptive to that. …[One person] indicated to us [Champlain Bridge] is the largest bridge in the Connecting Link system in Ontario. They acknowledge that it’s a big deal and they understand the liability to the provincial taxpayers. We just need to get together with them and move forward.”
Municipal Clerk Melanie Ducharme brought the matter of backyard chickens before council as an issue several councillors were faced with during elections. She provided a report on how other municipalities deal with the issue. “Some have instituted bylaws that are fairly strict, some regulate them based on lot size… The purpose of this is to simply find out whether Council wishes to explore the options further, to do a more in-depth sort of investigation, to bring back to council at a future date.” She recommended “some public consultation to find out what the local thoughts are on the process, because typically the calls that we get are for those [in favour].” Both councillors Rivard and Pellerin said the issue came up when they were campaigning.
Currently the zoning bylaw in WN states there are to be no agricultural livestock activities, including the raising of poultry, outside of the designated agricultural zones. Coun. Kaitlyn Nicol was firmly in favour of allowing backyard chickens, saying “I believe that we should proceed with the public consultation first as there are many properties within the urban areas that have adequate spacing for a chicken run. Typically, hens require three to five square feet per chicken in the coop and then an additional 10 square feet each in the run. So, to comfortably accommodate all six hens you potentially have, you’d only need 90 square feet at most, and that’s about .002 of an acre, if my math was correct earlier. With the cost of food prices changing, having the opportunity to supply your own eggs could offset it, not to mention the educational benefits for you and your family.”
Coun. Courchesne mentioned that growing up, his family had chickens, they would slaughter them on site and freeze, but under current bylaws it would not be permitted on his R1 designation. He wanted public consultations as well, “It would be kind of interesting in terms of seeing what the public has to say.” Mayor Thorne Rochon noted that although council hears from people who want chickens, “There might be a little bit more input from residents who don’t want that as part of their lifestyle. We want to make sure that the pros and cons from everybody are being heard.” A resolution authorizing staff to undertake a public consultation was carried, and a survey is now underway.