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Depending on who's elected, we could have a 'lame duck' council

Council approved handing over the reins of its decision-making power if necessary to Elliot Lake’s Chief Administrative Officer, Dan Gagno
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Depending on how many of Elliot Lake’s City Councillors are re-elected in the municipal election, the current seven-member council could be a “lame duck” in the period between Oct. 22 (election day), and the day the next council is sworn in, five to six weeks later. That would mean the city would have no way to carry out business like approving new hires or firings, or be able to approve spending where items exceed the cost of $50,000.

To prepare for that possibility, during Tuesday night’s meeting the current council approved handing over the reins of its decision-making power if necessary to Elliot Lake’s Chief Administrative Officer, Dan Gagnon. He assured council members he would not use the authority without meeting with current members of council first. To do otherwise, he noted “Would probably be a career-limiting move.” Tuesday night’s meeting was the last before Elliot Lake voters go to the polls to elect our next mayor, six council members and school trustees later this month.

City Council also approved a rebuild of City Hall's front steps and construction of an accessibility ramp. The process begins this Friday and will last approximately four weeks. During that time, access to Elliot Lake City Hall and services will be through the rear doors. Gagnon noted, "The temporary access will not be accessible for patrons with wheelchairs or other similar mobility devices. They may call 705-848-2287 to discuss accommodations required including meeting at an alternate location."

"The night time drop box will be relocated to an accessible location at the front of the building,” he added.

The work will be done by Wendell Farquhar Trucking (WFT) at a cost of $187,400 plus HST, which is under budget.

Also at council’s final legal meeting of the current four-year term on Tuesday night, councillors voted to return the taxes paid to the city by the Navy League on their former headquarters building at 5 Lakeshore Rd. That was the arrangement the Navy League had with the city under contract.

The lease was initiated with the Navy League in 2012. They paid no rent, only property taxes, on their headquarters. Councillor Chris Patrie, who touts himself as council’s “voice of reason" in his campaign literature, wanted to refer the decision to repay more than $13,000 to the Finance and Administration Committee for a redo. But on a vote of 6-1, council approved repayment of the taxes which apply to the five-year period the building was leased by the city to the group. Patrie also questioned the wisdom of rebuilding at the Lakeshore Road site.

Councillor Tammy VanRoon told her fellow councillors that the Canadian Forces have plenty of lawyers on staff who could quickly launch a lawsuit against Elliot Lake, resulting in costs considerably higher than the back tax refund. She said that for much of the lease period, the building was unusable due to safety issues. She said that at one point, mould developed after a roof leak destroyed much of the interior along with memorabilia and equipment belonging to the Navy League. That happened in a hurry and led to the city having to tear the old structure down.

Councillor Sandy Finamore, who was on council for only part of the lease period, wanted to know why another lease was put on the building in 2012 when it was obvious that major repairs were needed. She noted that because of changes in city staffing, there is no one for her to ask about that. She also noted that all along there have been plans to rebuild on the old site.

VanRoon noted that the original structure was valued at $200,000 but reconstruction plans call for a rebuild worth between $50,000 and $100,000.

“We are the landlords and as such are responsible for maintaining the building,” she said, adding, “Sometimes when you make a mistake, you have to pay for it.”

Councillor Luc Cyr wondered whether the city should be spending taxpayer dollars hiring lawyers in this case. He said by repaying the taxes, “it seems like a simple solution. We needed to maintain the building.”

Councillor Ed Pearce said there was “plenty of blame to go around” in the Navy League building situation and he didn’t want “to get into the weeds.”

Mayor Dan Marchisella said, “We have a legal and moral obligation to pay.”

The subject of city involvement in the charity bingo business arose after correspondence arrived from bingo operator, Sue Jarmovitch.

A number of local charities rely on the bingo games for their funding. But due to declining attendance and revenue at the Elliot Lake bingo hall, the charities say their volunteers are working for practically nothing. The bingo proponents are pushing for $7,000 in seed money to set up a TV bingo operation that would be broadcast live via cable TV on Sunday nights through Eastlink. Gagnon noted that Blind River is doing that right now with Wednesday night TV bingo games.

Councillor Luc Cyr said, "This merits a lot of further discussion. We need to focus on the charities the bingo would support."

"Technically, it can be done (from City Hall) via Eastlink. In Blind River it's a pain, but they do it,” Gagnon said.