Council discuss economy, construction and hiring freeze

By VERNA MURPHY, Connect Contributor

Councillor Keith McGrath

Councillor Keith McGrath

The September 1st Council meeting saw our Mayor and Council, once again, wading through three hours of discussions on a wide-range of topics affecting our municipality.

First up on the agenda, was a presentation by Philip Osborne about why he would like to see an amendment the Land Use Bylaw and the Animal Control Bylaw to allow local residents to keep urban chickens. Osborne spoke about how other urban centres, like New York, and Vancouver have changed their bylaws to allow chickens to be kept inside city limits.

The presentation was accepted as information, with Mayor Blake stating that: she was not interested in seeing the amendment as a vegetarian, and someone who was worried about the smells associated with keeping chickens and the slaughtering practice of chickens.

Some detailed reports were presented to Council, including: a Capital Projects Status Update for the second quarter, and a financial Performance update, as well.

Both of these reports had issues that Council asked about, including questions from Councillor Phil Meagher about how construction crews could take better advantage of our longer summer days, instead of having a three-year construction zone in some areas of our city. Meagher said that residents would deal with longer days during one summer over having their neighbourhood a construction zone for three years.

A report was also given on the municipality’s procurement policy, but Council referred the report so that some of their concerns could be addressed. Concerns were raised by several councillors; including Keith McGrath about how contractors received their tenders, and about a $75,000 threshold for certain projects.

Councillor McGrath would also like for administration to look at not providing any housing allowance for outside contractors. His question was could some contracts be given to more local contractors, instead of paying travel, and housing for others from outside the community who might receive those benefits. Councillor Sheldon Germain also had concerns about invoices being paid out for $74,900 that fell under a $75,000 threshold. Germain’s concern was how those contracts were given out.

The rest of the meeting went to the debate over Councillor Lance Bussieres’ motion to freeze the recruitment and hiring that the city is doing. It was a lengthy debate, with both sides of the discussion being very passionate at times. The way that Bussieres built the motion, the city and CAO, Marcel Ulliac would still be able to hire anyone that was needed legally or by legislated requirements.

Bussieres also said that if Ulliac came back to council saying that a specific position needed to be filled in the meantime that could also be done. If the motion passed, the freeze would have been in place until an operational review (which is supposed to happen in the next few months) took place, the operating budget was in place or a review was done on the currently vacant full time positions and a report was presented on recommendations of the positions that could be cut.

During the debate, Councillor Tatum said she felt that the freeze would be bad for morale among the current administration workers, and that she would rather have an employee working in a position working at less productive standards, than not having anyone in the position. Councillor Alan Vinni added that he did not think that a freeze would be inefficient and he believed that we should be investing in people, as well as, projects. Councillor Germain added that he would rather have a hiring freeze now instead of hiring more workers and then have to fire them in coming months – if the economy stays the way it is.

Councillor McGrath said that our community has to brace for the economy to stay the way it is for a while, and that even if the price of oil turned around tomorrow it would take us a while to recover from all that has happened the last few months. “We need to adjust our sails to get through this storm right now,” said McGrath. Vinni thought that McGrath was pessimistic in his outlook, to which McGrath replied that he is not being pessimistic, but is being realistic and is trying to do what’s best for the community.

Mayor Melissa Blake also spoke against the motion and said that she felt it was a vote of non-confidence in Ulliac and the administration. After the meeting, Bussieres said that he was upset that Mayor Blake inferred that it was a slight towards our current administration or our CAO.

“I brought that motion forward because I am concerned with the current economic conditions in our region. Many other companies are laying workers off and cutting back on projects, but we continue to hire and spend money,” said Lance Bussieres.

“I brought that motion forward because I am concerned with the current economic conditions in our region. Many other companies are laying workers off and cutting back on projects, but we continue to hire and spend money,” said Bussieres.

In the end, Blake, Vinni, Tatum, Meagher, Shroud, and Cardinal voted against the motion, while Bussieres, McGrath, Ault and Germain all supported it. Several months ago, McGrath made a motion that there be an Operational Review, and it was confirmed during the meeting that the review will be brought forward in the coming months.

And in the final decision of the night, Vinni’s motion that he made last week about a comprehensive review and analysis on all the land use districts passed. The review will cover appropriate separation distances between residential and industrial developments and appropriate protocols and conditions for shared use of roadway that serve or are intended to serve as access to both residential and industrial developments.

You can watch all the council meetings and see the supporting documents, like the financial report for the second quarter by going to the municipal website at www.rmwb.ca    

– Connect Weekly –