Council reaffirms commitment to new grant-in-lieu agreement, green lights cannabis retailers

The city’s 2018-2022 grant-in-lieu (GIL) agreement with Vale was once again the centre of attention during the Jan. 29 council meeting at City Hall.

Council approved this agreement, which slashed the amount of money Vale contributes to the city, the School District of Mystery Lake and the Local Government District of Mystery Lake by 20 per cent from the 2017 level, by a 7-2 vote at their Jan. 2 meeting,

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Coun. Ron Matechuk brought forward a motion to rescind that resolution at the Jan. 15 meeting, believing that the committee responsible for negotiating this new GIL agreement with Vale didn’t do their part in representing the community’s best interests.

Coun. Duncan Wong voted in favour of Matechuk’s motion to rescind on Jan. 29, saying that the committee and Mayor Dennis Fenske were not completely transparent with regards to how the negotiations played out.

Even though the mayor resigned from his position at Vale at the end of 2017, Wong suggested that Fenske’s previous ties with the company had something to do with this outcome, an accusation that the mayor vehemently denied.

“I don’t know how much clearer I can make this,” Fenske said addressing Wong. “The process was followed. All of council was made aware of the updates. Our legal representation reviewed with our staff … and at the end of the day this council passed a resolution to accept the grant-and-lieu as was presented by parties involved.”

Coun. Judy Kolada also threw her support behind Matechuk’s motion to rescind, saying the committee “should have had more emphasis on having a concern for the community that houses the Vale employees.”

However, Coun. Penny Byer, one of the members of the negotiating committee, said that because of the 1956 Agreement between the province and Inco, now inherited by Vale, the city has very little leverage regarding the final amount

“Both the company’s and the city’s situations are discussed. Is it a negotiation? No,” she said. “And Coun. Kolada, who has been on previous GIL teams, of all people would know that or should know that.”

Matechuk wasn’t convinced, though.

“This committee was sent in to negotiate a fair grant-in-lieu of taxes,” he said. “I believe that this committee failed miserably … and was duped on a grand scale by being told that it is not a negotiation.”

In the end, familiar battle lines were drawn, as council voted to reject this resolution to rescind 6-3, with only Matechuk, Wong and Kolada in favour.

Legal sale of marijuana

In stark contrast to their discussion about the GIL, council was in complete agreement about the prospect of regulating the sale of retail cannabis inside the City of Thompson.

While most of the councillors who spoke up during this part of the meeting cautioned the potential risks associated with this move – increased crime, more impaired driving – they also couldn’t deny that it could provide a boost to the local economy.

“There will be revenues from the sale of cannabis and the AMM, Association of Manitoba Municipalities, is lobbying hard on behalf of municipalities in Manitoba [to make sure] a large percentage of the revenue, the profits are turned back to municipalities,” said Byer.

Coun. Blake Ellis also pointed out that most other major Manitoba municipalities are moving forward with similar motions, which means that it would cost the city more to disallow the sale of cannabis.

“Whether you agree or disagree about the legalization of cannabis, if we don’t allow it our community we become an island,” he said. “Under the provincial legislation, in order to ban it from our community we would have to go to a plebiscite to our citizens and that’s an additional cost that the municipality would have to incur.”

Since the Manitoba government is projecting that cannabis retailers could begin operating in the province as early as July 2, council passed this resolution unanimously so that the administration could get started on preparing the necessary planning, zoning and licensing bylaw amendments to make this a reality in Thompson.

The next regular meeting of council will be held Feb. 12 at City Hall.

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