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Surplus lands policy
Town Clerk Melanie Ducharme brought a list of vacant residential properties to council a few months ago and asked if they wanted to adopt a policy to dispose of surplus property. She noted that other communities do have policies in place, but in West Nipissing land disposal has been done “On an As-Asked basis”. The status quo would be to continue examining each request individually. The other option was to look at a policy where, when requests are made, the clerk could readily tell interested parties that yes, that land is available.
Coun. Fisher thought that declaring certain lands surplus was a good idea. Coun. Larabie didn’t agree, and wanted to maintain status quo. “We could declare some land today to be available and next week or next month the municipality needs it. It should go on a case by case basis.” Coun. Leo Malette opined that when the municipality sells land, “Then you should have so much time to build on it – not just flip it. Not sit on it.” Coun. Roveda agreed to a policy, and Mayor Savage also supported it. “We have a lot of residential lots that can be used as an economic tool – for new housing – there’s a drastic need in West Nipissing.” Council decided to pursue a surplus land policy.
Villeneuve Court discussion
Discussion came up as a result of an offer to purchase industrial land on the east side of Villeneuve court, with not everyone agreeing on whether or how it should be sold. Coun. Duhaime noted that there were drainage issues associated with the subject lands and if the sale goes through, “We need to ensure water drainage is managed.” Coun. Fisher noted that it was a desirable piece of land and, “I would like to see an assessment done on it, to ensure the lands are developed according to council’s vision. I absolutely think it should go out to tender.” Coun. Rolly Larabie also wanted to have the land evaluated, appraised and sold as a tender with a reserve bid.
Coun. Roveda added, “Declare it surplus and if more than one person is interested, have processes in place – and if someone is buying it to sit on it and someone is buying to develop it, that we look at the good of the community, so it’s not just a sell to have someone sit on it.” Coun. D. Sénécal didn’t want to rush a sale either. “I support Jay [Barbeau’s] recommendation – don’t sell it if we don’t need to. Be sure it’s economic development so there’s a return on it for us,” he recommended.
Clerk Ducharme added, “Since it’s zoned Industrial, if there’s that much interest, get indicators what they plan on doing with the land in order to facilitate a decision.” Barbeau concurred, “Ask interested parties in the community to come forth with ideas of what it will be used for – you can do it that way.”
Council opted to hold off on declaring the land surplus until they know what is proposed. Barbeau advised, “Advertise to the community if they have an interest in the property and declare what it is, and then meet in closed session to protect competitive interest… When you are discussing municipal land you’re custodians for everybody – you want to make sure you get the best possible use for it – open competition (tender) is the cleanest way of doing it.” Council agreed to this process.
Regular meeting held Jan. 5, 2021
Council received a petition with over 450 names from the Field area, decrying the conditions of the decaying former Ste-Marie school, which has been abandoned and is in serious disrepair. The petition asks the municipality to demolish the former school. Council acknowledged receipt of the petition, which will be tabled for discussion.
Assistance for Businesses
Coun. Duhaime requested that the town hold back on any penalties or interest on overdue municipal accounts for businesses facing financial hardship due to COVID-19 restrictions. Coun. Fisher asked, “Do we have a spike in outstanding?” Craddock responded that there was an increase in receivables in 2020 over 2019, but that increase was driven by properties that were already in trouble in 2019. “That has compounded because they are 2 years in arrears... Is it related to the fact that collection procedures went on hold [during COVID]?” She said that the issues Coun. Duhaime raised were street anecdotal while what she was seeing on the books were issues preceding COVID.
Craddock said that the move would impact the municipality to the tune of $300K in lost penalties and interest. She added that it would be more manageable if the town devised a means test to determine who actually does need a break. Fisher said he would want to take a wait-and-see approach.
Coun. Larabie noted that when the break goes to businesses, then the shortfall goes onto the general taxpayer, and he was not in support of a blanket break. Coun. Roveda suggested that if a business could prove they are experiencing COVID-related hardship, they might make some sort of submission. He supported the notion of an application process “asking for supporting documentation so we know we are giving the benefit to businesses who need the benefit.”
Mayor Savage also expressed concerns for shifting the levy from businesses to the general pool of taxpayers, noting “We did get a substantial relief from the province, in excess of $1 million,” and the municipal program to not pursue penalties and interest stopped in October of 2020. Coun. D. Sénécal spoke up, “The program stopped in October?... Nothing has changed, we’re still not open, still under COVID watch. I don’t know why we wouldn’t continue the program.” He suggested a further 6 months.
Of the funding received from the province, Craddock told council the amount was $900K and there was very little guidance on how it should be applied, but it could be applied to interest and loss of taxes. Coun, Lise Sénécal was also in favour of a means test, saying, “We have people who jump on anything they can get – I do not support (forgiving) arrears in taxes from 2019 – but there are some businesses who have no way to get any funding.” Council decided, in the end, to approve a further 3 months of tax relief to businesses as long as they could provide proof that they needed it and their losses were associated with COVID.