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PAB outlines 2023 budget

Plans for fish plant, infrastructure repairs and new housing options

Channel-Port aux Basques Council Chambers on Jan. 13, 2023. From left: Town Clerk Nadine Osmond, Coun. Jim Lane, Terry Ingram, Todd Strickland, Mayor Brian Button, Deputy Mayor Mark Andrews, Coun. Gwen Davis, Melvin Keeping, Town Manager Leon MacIsaac. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Incorporated

By Rosalyn Roy Senior Staff Reporter – with files from René J. Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES — The Municipal budget for 2023 was handed down by Councillor Gwen Davis during the last meeting of council on Tuesday, Jan. 31. The budget was heavily impacted as a result of Hurricane Fiona and anticipated rebuild and relief efforts. The Town’s 2023 budget is balanced at $4,857,254.60. The Town continues to take measures to address the operating deficit and reduce long-term debt while also making investments toward future growth, something that Davis noted has become increasingly difficult given current inflation and the cost of goods and services. The Bruce II will see major retrofits in 2023. A combined $5.2 million in funding has been received to move the facility forward with their green upgrades. Another $274,000 will be invested in the fire hall for fuel switching and energy retrofits. Phase 1 of the Grand Bay Sewer Project will receive $1,509,153 going toward completion, and there is another $2,939,974 for Phase 2. Infrastructure was also addressed, with $1,190,307 for the rehabilitation of Brook Street, Warren Road, and Matthews Road. Construction of a new municipal salt shed will come at a cost of $692,275, and another $222,709 will be invested for replacement of a section of Grand Bay Wester water main.

An additional $500,000 has been requested to repair damages from Hurricane Fiona. There is $713,466 in funding earmarked for High Street Storm Water Rehabilitation project and $251,475 for reconstruction of Pleasant Street. The construction of the Dennis’ Road water supply booster station will come in at a total of $731,505. Consulting work is still ongoing for a regional trail system, and also for reinstatement of the Grand Bay West trail system. Work is also underway on Hardy’s Arterial for construction of the new Marine Atlantic administration building at a cost of $19.7 million. The town has reduced its debt for the fiscal year to $4.3 million. The annual debt servicing is set at $450,000, and there will be no tax increases for 2023 with the Town’s debt ratio set at 11 per cent. Mil rate is set at 8 for residents and 10.5 for commercial, while poll tax will remain at $300. There were some items of note among the Town’s list of plans for 2023, including a significant number of upgrades for the fish plant. Town Manager Leon MacIsaac clarified that a public Request For Proposal last year to sell the plant only produced one submission, did not proceed further, and the town continues to maintain ownership and address necessary repairs and upgrades. “The Seafood Producers of Newfoundland and Labrador were looking for an area where they can store fish species,” said MacIsaac. Currently a lot of products being exported to market, like lobsters, are stored in Nova Scotia and not Newfoundland. “When we became aware of that, we have a large building over there, we were approached to try to find an area, so that if a truck comes in with a load of lobster, that pound will be able to take that full load and put them in the tank while they’re waiting,” said MacIsaac. If there’s a delay in transport due to unforeseen issues, like weather impacting ferry sailings, the live product won’t have to sit for too long in the trucks. Codroy Seafoods does have its own processing building for its lobster products, but MacIsaac clarified that was separate from where these upgrades will be done. Funding for these refrigeration upgrades and other similar work is via the Atlantic Fisheries Fund. “We’ve asked ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) for our own resources because anything to do with the cold water storage, that’s all spawnal, we’re asking for a cold system for the original Bay 5, the tallest unit. It used to be cool storage, where you could come in and store your vegetables and that. So we’ve applied for funding to upgrade the processor system to bring the temperature down to zero, because if we can attract more producers to store their product in Port aux Basques rather than going across,” said MacIsaac. “That Bay 5 has a huge amount of capacity for that storage, and the rack systems are already there.” The Downtown Beautification Project will see the usual colourful flags, flower boxes and garbage cans, but there is also work remaining that didn’t get completed last year. “There’s 1.5 kilometres of sidewalk for the East End’s concrete system,” said MacIsaac. “That’ll stretch from, say, the Harbourview on down. There’s a lot of sections there, sidewalks that need repair.” When it comes to future growth and development, MacIsaac said that the Town is focused on anything that could have economic benefits, whether it’s oil or green energy. Learning more and networking will be crucial to that, and why the Town hopes to be able to send representatives to the Global Energy Trade Show, which is scheduled for mid-June in Calgary. “Other municipalities are making an effort to make sure they have people there,” noted MacIsaac. That will come with a bigger price tag, as flights alone will come in at around $1,500 per person. MacIsaac said the Town will have to decide on a budget to see if and how many representatives it can afford to send. There has been some minor discussion and interest by energy companies in the region, but it’s been quite introductory to date. “It’s very important for us. Like, we have energy groups coming here and asking to talk with us,” said MacIsaac, “but the onus is on us to go and talk with them. It’s like any conference. Networking, itself, is the biggest part of getting the ear of somebody. You can’t do that if you’re not there. You can make as many phone calls or video chats you want, but the one-on-one is what makes the difference. And we’ve seen this the past year. Fortescue (Metals Group Ltd.) was in the area. They came in several times.” MacIsaac said there is a lot of potential for large scale development, including vacant buildings that would suit bigger industries who need storage space. “If they’re going to do wind energy in Stephenville, we would hope that we’d be the main point of entry for any product going back and forth,” said MacIsaac. Council wants to rezone an area on Grand Bay West Road for apartment buildings to help alleviate the region’s housing crunch. There are vacant commercial buildings, and MacIsaac said that opening up options for more diverse usage would benefit the owners as well. “Trying to attract new business is difficult at this time, so we can offer them some options for redevelopment of the property if they can. It’s not close to the heavy industrial area. It would be a compatible use and it’s not unheard of in a lot of other municipalities,” said MacIsaac. “There’s an opportunity there if they get approached by a developer.” There are a couple of reasons why this area would appeal to an apartment building developer. “”It’s relatively flat. A subdivision area is probably not the best spot to put an apartment building, if someone wished to put one in there, but this would be,” said MacIsaac. “If you look at areas around town, there’s a lot of rock and granite. It would be extremely expensive to put an apartment building there. So this is an option.” The town has no plans to construct any apartments itself. The rezoning designation is intended to entice developers and help current owners explore another option. MacIsaac confirmed that there has been some interest already. “There are people who do want to build apartment buildings,” he admitted. “This would possibly open up some land for them.” The Town is still planning to move ahead with more development for new homes, most likely in the Dennis Road area, as removal of irreparably damaged houses continues along the shoreline. And an anticipated buy out option of homes located within an as-yet-to-be-determined red zone will also likely drive demand for more construction. “We’re looking for more land to develop,” said MacIsaac. As for existing homes that are being removed, and even ones that weren’t affected by Fiona, MacIsaac strongly encourages homeowners or renters to post a civic number for a couple of reasons. Firstly, not all emergency personnel are familiar enough with homeowners to recognize a name when trying to respond to an emergency. But secondly, Hurricane Fiona provided another hard lesson for homeowners and those trying to help them recover. The province cannot match a name to a house to assess damages and compensation. The Town does note a building’s civic address on the assessments it sends to homeowners each year, and there is a bylaw that homeowners must post that number on the building. The province must have a civic number matched to the homeowner to proceed with a disaster relief claim, and even a minor issue like that can cause delays because that information must be tracked down. “The evaluation is all linked to that civic address. If you don’t have a civic address on it, it’s very difficult. Anybody that’s been dealing with the provincial staff since the start don’t know how difficult it is, and provincial staff will tell you as well,” said MacIsaac. “It’s completely unnecessary; a huge waste of time.”

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