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Elliot Lake council warned to hang onto Queen's Park dollars

CAO advises council to make the one-time grant last and spend it on one-time expenditures
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Members of Elliot Lake City Council have repeatedly been warned not to spend the entire $725,000 in provincial grant money they received from the Ford government in Toronto, at this time. 

The reason, cautioned Elliot Lake Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Gagnon, is the one time provincial money will not be made available next year, or the year after that.

"Let's make it last," Gagnon told members of the city's Ad Hoc Budget Committee. The prudent course would be to spend this year's provincial money on one-time expenditures, like money needed to recruit a new City Treasurer, for instance, he added.

Much of last year's 2018 budget surplus was created because the city did not replace departed staff. Mayor Dan Marchisella said hiring new staff is very costly for recruitment, wages, and through the cost of benefits and employee contributions the city makes for each municipal worker.

The issue won't be settled until at least next Monday, the day of the next regularly scheduled city council meeting. Except for Coun. Chris Patrie, all members of City Council took part in Tuesday's Budget Committee meeting, so there shouldn't be many surprises when they vote on the same issues  again, next Monday. Councillor Patrie was absent from the Tuesday meeting. 

As it stands, the council consensus is to apply $242,000 of the province's money for this year's 2019 city budget, and to hold onto roughly the other half million dollars from the province for spending in future years.  

Also up for consideration, a request from Maplegate, the privately operated shelter for abused and homeless women and men in Elliot Lake, asking for $30,000 for immediate emergency operating costs.

Maplegate Executive Director Melody Rose told the Ad Hoc Budget Committee her own salary has been reduced by 20 per cent while the organization braces for further funding cuts from the Ministry of Children and Community Social Services of Ontario.

Rose anticipates the shelter's provincial funding will likely be cut by about 10 per cent. Maplegate had originally sought the extra money from the city each year, for the next three years. The committee decided to recommend the money for this year only and Mayor Dan Marchisella told Ms. Rose he would support the $10,000 now while "diving into the enhancements a little bit deeper later on."

Coun. Tom Turner told the committee he learned Maplegate's two women's facilities are currently operating at 86 per cent occupancy while the men's facility is at 97 per cent capacity.

Council will be asked to approve the emergency operating money for Maplegate at its next meeting on Monday. The organization provides beds for 24 people at its three Elliot Lake facilities. 

Also at next Monday's meeting, council will be asked to approve $674 for New Life Pentecostal Assembly for an educational program.

Gagnon suggested $2,500 go to Elliot Lake's AstroRabbit Entertainment to help produce this August's heavy metal music show at Elliot Lake Airport. 

If council accepts the committee's recommendations, another $1,550 in Community Grant money would go to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine for a high school apprenticeship program supporting local students with an inclination to study medicine.

Granting the money for the church and NOSM received unanimous committee support.

Coun. Sandy Finamore voted against giving the grant money to AstroRabbit because it's a business. Mayor Dan Marchisella said the owner, Corey McKenzie, has promised to donate half the concert's profits to local charities.

AstroRabbit had initially asked for a grant from the city for $5,000.

"I understand the rationale behind it, but I'm still a bit leery about it. It is still a bit on the edge, let's say, in terms of where it's going," Coun. Ed Pearce said. 

"I have an issue with the business asking for money out of this fund when there's other doors open through other sources for funding for business," Finamore said.

"I think the amounts are reasonable," responded Coun. Norman Mann, the Budget Committee Chair.

Astrorabbit will pay the city $5,000 rent money for the use of Elliot Lake Airport for the weekend it's there and allowing the event at the airport will cost Elliot Lake about $10,000, Gagnon told the committee. AstroRabbit has also produced proof of insurance for the three day summer music show.

Gagnon identified $50,000 in HR Department recruitment funding, $45,000 to $50,000 one-time funding for Protective Services and a $27,000 additional expenditure over 2018 for water pumps already replaced, as three sources of need for one-time funding. He suggested funding these expenses with the grant money would be a way to avoid spending reserve funds to satisfy this year's budget.

It was the fourth meeting of the Ad Hoc Budget Committee. Council hopes to finalize the City of Elliot Lake 2019 capital and operating budgets next month and then set this year's tax rate.