The most recent meeting of town council was held virtually on Wednesday, May 19. The meeting was originally scheduled for Tuesday, May 6 but had to be postponed due to the level 4 alert level.
Among the topics discussed were finding a spot for a possible animal shelter, some tricky intersections, the RCMP under-staffing, and how mental health is being impacted by the prolonged pandemic.
The virtual setting seemed to prompt more interest than usual, with 17 people attending the video conference. Here are the highlights.
Peggy Savery with For the Love of Paws rescue asked council to allow an animal shelter in town and suggested a possible location at 23B Stadium Road. There is currently no zoning that allows an animal rescue, but the rescue group has offered to pay to have the municipal plan amended.
“We are asking council to show us the same courtesy they have shown other organizations in town. You have allowed an organization two years to stay in town, going against your municipal plan and your zoning laws, not charging them any rent or any other power bills or whatever,” said Savery. “We want to be able to stay in town while we work on the process of amending the municipal plan, however long that takes.”
Mayor John Spencer stated that council is bound by the legislation of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) and that rezoning is a lengthy process, something also noted by Town Manager Leon MacIsaac.
“You’re looking at a minimal cost of $5,000 and 8 to 12 months depending on the current climate at Municipal Affairs,” said MacIsaac.
MacIsaac observed that other municipalities have their shelters outside residential zones and instead located in industrial or discretionary use zones, and adhere to specific conditions. As the group’s proposed location is in a residential area, there would be a long list of procedural steps that must be followed, including public meetings.
Spencer stated he had contacted Municipal Affairs himself and the town’s hands are tied.
“We can’t give you a decision in two weeks,” said Spencer.
The mayor pointed out that a new council will be elected in the fall and that the fishery has changed, which has impacted the availability of the industrial building where the previous shelter was located.
Coun. Melvin Keeping suggested the group look at the former Rogers building located in the industrial zone, which he believes is within the rescue group’s budget.
Council promised to have a discussion following the public meeting to see what they can do to help.
René J. Roy, editor-in-chief for the Wreckhouse Weekly, asked council to consider doing something about the confusing and sometimes dangerous intersections at Main Street and Water Street West, Charles Street and Main Street, and Grand Bay West and Grand Bay Road. He suggested improved signage, fresh road painting and a convex mirror at the Charles Street intersection.
“We’re going to discuss it further, if you don’t mind, and we’ll get back to you,” promised Spencer, who conceded that Grand Bay Road intersection is sometimes dangerous. “It’s a busy corner there.”
Mental Health Break
Coun. Justin Blackler said that town council has an opportunity to support some local initiatives surrounding mental health.
“The mental health of our teachers and students and staff are not in a good place,” said Blackler.
The goal is to focus more on the students and staff as people via a full day event of food and fun, and is trying to secure funding through private sponsors, Western Health and the schools.
The Mayor suggested approaching the Canadian Red Cross for a financial partnership.
“They do recognize the mental anguish that COVID has created,” said Spencer.
Town clerk Julia Ingram also offered some partnership suggestions and will reach out to those organizations.
The PAB RCMP updated council via letter on the following:
• 979 files opened / complaints
• 336 criminal code related complaints
•110 complaints cleared by criminal charge
The number of complaints are, on average 2.7 per day, with 1 criminal charge laid per day, and 1/3 of those are cleared through the criminal charge process. In April 2019, the Port aux Basques detachment moved under the jurisdiction of the Stephenville department.
Mayor Spencer shared that the detachment is now down to five officers, as the sergeant has now been transferred to Stephenville. He has requested a meeting with the superintendent to discuss concerns around under-staffing.
“I don’t know that we can function with five members,” said Spencer, noting that one is currently a cadet and cannot respond to calls without another officer accompanying them.
“There are major drug issues that they are dealing with. The cocaine trade is one of them,” said Spencer. “I think we need a Sergeant here, if for no other reason than this is at a pivotal point in our province.”
Mayor Spencer’s letters to the Federal Minister of Transportation, Omar Alghabra, about Marine Atlantic’s rate increases received a written response.
The department’s response noted that it has invested over 1 billion dollars in Marine Atlantic since 2015, and is preparing to help provide funds for a new vessel and a new administrative building in Port aux Basques. It is upon the Crown corporation how to meet the cost recovery targets mandated by the Federal government, be that through increased rates, find cost savings through cutbacks, etc.
“The letter was about rate increases and not cost recovery, although he spent a fair amount of time defending cost recovery,” Spencer told council. “This debate has to continue.”
Spencer shared that the matter did not reach MNL’s priority list this year, but that the number one item on that list is renumeration for councilors.
“Our own worst enemies,” observed Keeping.
The Rat Patrol
A resident of Brook Street wrote council about a growing rat problem, asking if the town’s “rat patrol” was still investigating problem areas and requesting help to deal with one near their home. The resident also provided photos to help council understand the urgency.
“It reminds me of a scene from Netflix as they climb up from the gutter making their way to the street,” said Spencer.