The failure of its dormant pulp mill to pay its taxes this year has forced Port Alice to close its arena for the upcoming winter.
“Neucel owes us a million dollars and its pretty hard to stay status quo when you’re short a million,” stated Mayor Jan Allen in an exclusive interview with The Gazette.
Acting Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Bonnie Danyk released a statement on the village’s website, stating the arena budget for 2018 is $185,700.00 and the revenue budgeted is $13,000.00, which leaves $172,700 to be funded by tax money. “Neucel’s share of this amount is $120,890.00. The amount spent to date in the arena is $88,584.00 leaving $97,116.00 in expenditures to the end of the year.”
Danyk also pointed out that due to the tragic accident that occurred in Fernie, the Technical Safety Authority has stepped up the safety program for arenas in B.C.
“They have made several orders for the Doug Bondue Arena including having staff in the arena seven days a week rather than the five days we have now. The estimated cost of these orders is an additional $35,000 in expenditures to Dec. 31, 2018 that were not budgeted for.”
The arena closure is one of the biggest impacts on town operations, but it’s not the only one. The curling rink will also be out of commission and council has also decided not to fill the vacant CAO position for the next six months.
“We’re also doing a small cutback on the community centre’s hours, they will be closing at 8 p.m. now instead of 9 p.m.,” said Danyk, who added the rest of the village’s budgets are looking at a 15 per cent cut back, which means “basically everything — public works, general government, and recreation.”
Neucel — by far the largest employer in the dwindling North Island community — has been in a production curtailment since March of 2015. The pulp mill was originally supposed to be shut down for only six months, but the conditions that existed then (most notably the declining market price for Neucel’s product), continued to exist after the initial sixth-month curtailment and remain to this day.
Allen is planning to meet with Premier John Horgan, Minister of Transportation/MLA Claire Trevena, MP Rachel Blaney, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson and Minister of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development Doug Donaldson to discuss the situation.
“All we are doing is asking for some help — we just want to work with the government agencies to give us a hand,” said Allen, who added she has been discussing with Neucel the tax situation, and has met with the company’s new CAO Yvon Pelletier, who stated at the meeting “they couldn’t pay all of their taxes, but they would be paying a portion.”
Allen said they told the company if they could give the village $500,000 by the end of July they would be able to stay the status quo, “but that didn’t happen.”
The company instead paid taxes on the house and apartment located in the village, which is roughly a little over $30,000.
When asked how she sees the future of Port Alice, Allen said she sees it “exactly the same as it is now, but without an arena for the moment.”
She added the arena has closed down for a year before due to the mill being in curtailment, noting it was probably around 2005-2006 when that happened, and that mayor and council’s most important decisions are “to provide our residents a safe place to live with water, sewer, lights, a fire department, and safe roads.”