Councillors clash over Napanee Downtown Advisory Committee budget request

Councillor Michael Schenk (far right) speaks sternly about his thoughts on the proposed budget for the Downtown Advisory Committee during the Greater Napanee Town Council Meeting on May 23, 2023. Screen captured image.

Greater Napanee’s Town Council meeting on Tuesday, May 23, 2023, held a number of topics for discussion, but it got heated when it came to the creation of a budget for the Downtown Advisory Committee.

Council received a report from the Downtown Advisory Committee, which was recently established after the former Downtown Napanee Business Improvement Area (BIA) was dissolved (though whether pr not to reinstate the BIA had been discussed in January 2023). The report, coming out of the most recent meeting of the Advisory Committee, recommended two things to Council: a 2023 budget request and an amendment to the Committee Mandate Letter.

In total, the report recommends a budget of $31,500, to be used for the Downtown Advisory Committee’s 2023 activities, including the “engagement of a contracted staff member to assist with Committee-related activities.” 

More specifically, the Committee is looking to create a “part-time position… to assist with social media/event coordination and communications,” with a budget for the position of $2,500 per month, “not to exceed $15,000.00” (six months). According to the report, the total budget proposed would include marketing activities, the December shopping party, and Canadian flag-style banners, for the six months from June-December 2023.

However, the report notes, this budget would not include the cost of flowers that Council had already approved to be purchased, nor the cost of two horticultural summer workers “hired to assist with watering the plants.”

The report also notes that there is no budget for the Downtown Advisory Committee for the 2023 year. Therefore, if approved, “a formal budget amendment for the current year is required.”

“Because of the timing in relation to the property tax bills, funding for this request would need to come from reserves, which have been funded through general taxation, or by reducing expenses in other areas,” the report reads.

Council was offered two options to take with regard to the report: one, to simply receive it for information and take no action; or two, to approve the Committee requests, identify a funding source for the requested budget, and decide who the proposed communications position would report to from Town staff.

After Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) John Pinsent outlined the report briefly, Councillor Angela Hicks, chair of the Downtown Advisory Committee, spoke to the report and recommendation first, urging that “time is of the essence on this.”

“We need to start planning for what events we’re going to hold downtown,” she said. “The position we’re looking for is really critical. We need somebody that can devote the time and the hours to social media accounts, in particular, and getting that up and going again. So I’m just looking for Council support on approving the budget request.”

On the adviceof Town Clerk Jessica Walters, Mayor Terry Richardson decided it best to break the report and its recommendations into parts, swiftly followed by comment from Councillor Michael Schenk.

“I don’t care if it’s broken apart or not… if I read this correctly, it’s $46,500 they want…” Schenk began, before Hicks, sitting beside Schenk, leaned over to correct him off-microphone. 

There was a somewhat confused back-and-forth between councillors regarding the actual amount of the requested budget; Mayor Richardson asked the Clerk to clarify. 

Noting that she is not affiliated with the Advisory Committee, Walters explained that the request before Council was for a budget of $31,500, which includes the wages for the new hire but not the flowers and the two student positions to tend them. Those items, with a budget of $10,000, were already approved by Council, she explained. “The only ask tonight is for $31,500 outside of your already approved budget.”

With that detail established, Deputy Mayor Brian Calver spoke, indicating that he thought the social media and communications position already existed. It was determined that he was referring to the Bay of Quinte Marketing Board, which covers the entire Greater Napanee area, and that the position in question would be dedicated to events and promotion in downtown Napanee.

“The easiest way to understand this is [that] these are the activities that were previously funded by the BIA,” CAO Pinsent explained. “They no longer have any funding, so [the Advisory Committe is] now coming to the municipality for the funding for which they previously got funding for these activities.”

“You all know, I hate spending money, but… you have to give the committee the tools to do it,” Schenk responded. “For this year, let them run with it. Let’s give them the $31,500. Then next year, during the budget process, we’ll have to find out what worked, what didn’t work… how it’s going to be funded.”

After Interim Treasurer Nicole Davidson explained that Council would need to indicate which reserve fund the proposed budget was to come from and suggested the Working Capital Reserve, Councillor Dave Pinnell took the floor – and was not backward in coming forward.

“I’m not going to be very popular here,” Pinnell declared, “but when we were doing our budgets, we asked everybody to cut, cut, cut… we took money out of equipment, maintenance… I don’t know how I can be in favour of such dollars when I’ve asked staff to cut so much and… and still be true to all the other taxpayers.”

When the BIA existed, Pinnell said, there was a levy to take care of the costs being outlined by the committee, “but it looks like to me, by reading these reports, that… they still want to go forward with the stuff, but not use their monies to pay for it… I need somebody to try to convince me why I should vote for this.”

Councillor Hicks addressed this assertion by stating that any monies the BIA had when the organization was dissolved went back to the Town.

“There is no money because there is no BIA,” Hicks said, “which is why we cut a lot from the budget request: because it’s for six months. It’s to get things moving again, get the merchants engaged again. But there is no money in a little bucket called ‘BIA leftovers.’ We’re a committee of Council, so we have to come to council with the ask.”

Pinnell responded, “What I’m trying to say is when the BIA was there, there was levies for their budget. [Now] there’s no budget, there’s no BIA. And now we’re asking to go into reserves to pay for these functions that weren’t budgeted for — on the back of… everything else in our whole budget that we’ve been cutting.”

“And now… there’s an ask for these monies that we have to go to reserves for,” he said. “I’m sorry. I just can’t see spending the money.”

Schenk said he understood what Pinnell was saying, adding, “Let’s call a spade a spade: it’s the BIA. When they had the BIA, they funded this thing, 100 per cent… Then they voted not to have the BIA, but they still want to have it funded.”

“Not everybody that has a store down there owns the building, all right?” Schenk continued, seemingly changing his mind as he spoke. “If we just throw them into the wind, say ‘You’re on your own, have a nice day,’ what are we doing?… What’s the sense of having a committee if you don’t give them any funds to go ahead and do it?”

Hicks agreed that not all downtown business owners own the buildings that house their business, and she pointed to things like the Big Dig and the COVID-19 pandemic as additional burdens that have left business owners “struggling.”

“We need to help get people back into Napanee and to see what a vibrant little town we are,” she asserted.

Interim Treasurer Davidson joined the conversation, asking whether Council planned to reinstate the BIA levy in order to continue funding the committee moving forward: “For future years, would the plan be to reinstate a BIA levy to fund this, or maintain it through the regular tax base?”

Mayor Richardson responded that she had taken “the words right out of [his] mouth,” but he offered up the floor to anyone who would like to speak before he did. Deputy Mayor Calver took the opportunity.

“I totally get where you’re coming from,” Calver told Pinnell, before turning back to the horseshoe to state that his own business is in the industrial park. “We pay a lot more taxes than the people downtown, [yet] we get zero out of it. [But] we need to support the beautification of our downtown. I think for this year, we have to support this amount and then take a look at next year’s budget… We need to look after the downtown to keep those taxpayers coming into town and spending.”

Hicks admitted that the dissolution of the BIA was unfortunate, but it had happened nonetheless. Otherwise, she said, “we would not be sitting [here] asking Council for money.”

“I don’t think $41,000 is too much to invest in the downtown… Look what you’re trying to do with Market Square,” she went on, referencing the current plan to revitalize the area. “If you don’t support what’s going on around Market Square, you’re going to have a bunch of empty buildings, basically — so either we show support or we don’t.”

Councillor Bill Martin called for support also, describing this year as a transition phase between having a BIA and not having one.

After more confusion arose about funding that the BIA used to have in 2022 when it dissolved, the CAO had to explain that that funding has already been used up to finance the beautification and other downtown activities in 2022, and any leftovers have already been spent on spring beautification in 2023.

When Mayor Richardson finally got his chance to speak, he said he had hoped the BIA would come back together — but since that didn’t happen, it was time to move ahead and consider other options like a tax levy in the future to continue downtown activities. 

“What I was hoping to see rather than a budget request would be [the committee come to Council] with specific [costed] expenses… but that is not what we’re looking at tonight… I don’t believe that the model we are looking at is sustainable,” he said.

Finally, a motion was hammered out by the Clerk that approved the Advisory Committee requests, identified a funding source for the requested budget, and decided who the proposed communications position would report to from the Town staff.

Thus it was put on the floor, “That Council approve the proposed changes to the downtown Advisory Committee mandate letter. And further, that Council approve the proposed budget and staffing requests submitted by the Downtown Advisory Committee for the second half of 2023 in the amount of $31,500, with the funding to be allocated from working capital reserves, and the proposed communications position to report to the CAO.”

But then, the CAO interjected, “It might be better if… the reporting would be to the General Manager of Community and Corporate Services (GMCCS) [that is, Brandt Zatterberg]. That way those activities can be integrated with his other staff resources.” Once that correction was agreed to by Zatterberg, Pinnell requested a recorded vote. 

At this moment Shenck raised his hand and asked a question about some past misunderstandings — and “toxicity” — regarding roles and responsibilities, but since it was not directly relevant to the vote, the mayor quickly cut in and drew attention back to the motion on the floor. In a recorded vote, the motion passed with only Councillor Pinnell opposed.

This and other Greater Napanee Town Council meetings can be accessed online via Napanee’s CivicWeb portal or YouTube channel, or attended in person at Napanee Town Hall, located at 124 John Street.

With files from Michelle Dorey Forestell.

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