The Town of Greater Napanee will put forward a request for proposal seeking an agency to perform an independent review of the town’s surplus property tax sales over the last eight-10 years.
The motion to direct town staff to put issue the request was made by councillor Ellen Johnson during Tuesday’s virtual council meeting. The motion was a follow up from the previous meeting, when council discussed bringing in an independent review, which would be conducted at arm’s length, in response to accusations made by residents who felt the town had made some questionable deals in recent years. In particular it was the sale of a property at 32 Oke Rd. that generated the most discussion on social media. The property was sold to former mayor Gord Schermerhorn in April of 2019. The former mayor was the only person to submit a bid ahead of the deadline, though a second bid came minutes after the deadline.
Part of the review is to explore if any previous deals were improper, while another part is to adopt any best practices that are identified for future tax sales going forward.
“We need to make sure that each and every time that we do anything like this that it comes out into open,” said Marg Isbester, mayor of Greater Napanee. “This council has looked very differently at closed session and rising and reporting and trying to make sure that there is openness and transparency and we can’t survive without it.”
In regards to the sale of 32 Oke Rd., the mayor once again reiterated she is eager to have the facts made public to counter the rumours that have been making the rounds on social media.
“Whether it was an error, whether it was an oversight, no matter what the whole story is not out there and it needs to come out so that everyone knows,” said Isbester.
Greater Napanee CAO Ray Callery said town staff would come back to council in October with the results of their request. A dollar figure for the job is not yet known and will become clear when agencies respond to the request.
-Council got a snapshot of its pre-COVID-19 financial statement, courtesy a presentation from Doug Churcher of Welch LLP, which performed an annual audit of the town’s books for 2019.
Overall it was welcome news as the town was said to be in good standing ahead of the pandemic.
“At the end of 2019 we had $23.3 million in financial assets, the cash was up $2.5 million, long-term investments were down $1 million but it was basically at cash at the end of the year,” said Churcher. “That’s where that was included. Financial liabilities are down $1.8 million, most of that is you’re down $1.4 million in your trade AP at the end of the year, just sort of the timing of the capital projects and the timing of that. Long term debt we’re down another $900,000 in long term debt and deferred revenue are up about $400,000, most of the funding received for the Clean Water Fund for the waste water expansion project.”
Churcher noted the town had some ‘resiliency’ from last year’s financial numbers to help weather significant financial losses from the 2020 pandemic.
“At the end of 2019, we’ve got $125.9 million accumulated surplus versus $121.3 million the year before,” he added. He did however caution 2020’s number will looks ‘very different.’
-Hope of a federal grant towards the town’s aquatics program were dashed when the recipients of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program were announced without Greater Napanee’s name included.
“We weren’t successful in the bid,” said councillor Dave Pinnell Jr. “We had a $10 million ask, there was over $10 billion worth (across Canada) of an ask for $1 billion in grants.”
Despite the disappointment, Pinnell Jr. said the goal of bringing an indoor pool to town would continue.
“Going forward as chair of the aquatics committee we’ll regroup and see what we can come up with and continue on with a funding strategy and try to get some sort of aquatics program here in Greater Napanee,” Pinnell Jr. added.
-Residents living next to a quarry on County Rd. 8 voiced their concerns to council as part of a virtual delegation.
Serge and Cynthia Cossais cited dust, fly rock, noise, optics and possible well water contamination as issues they have with the quarry, which is owned by Aaron White.
“We’re not seeking to shutdown Mr. White’s operation at all,” said Serge. “We’re just seeking the implementation of mitigating measures to minimize the impact of quarry operations for our health and safety and quality of life.”
White, who was also in on the delegation, purchased the quarry in 2017. He says the quarry has been much more active in recent months after sitting dormant for years, but also says he’s been proactive in giving residents notice ahead of any planned blasting. He also said his operation, which is regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources, isn’t as dangerous as the nearby residents have implied.
“I have equipment within 200 feet of their blast down in the quarry,” said White, noting the blasts last for three seconds. “Nothing touches my equipment. My equipment’s not cheap. If I was concerned, it would be moved far, far away.”
Council moved to get a report together for next their next meeting to see if there was anything they can do to find a solution that worked for everybody. Council did also note that if White’s operation is found to be following the guidelines laid out by the MNR, they would have little recourse to get involved as it would be beyond their jurisdiction.