By Kirk Starratt
The Village of Port Williams took action to acquire land surrounding a village wellhead more than a year ago, but a grant requested county council is still in limbo.
Kings County Financial Services manager Kim Durling told councillors at the Jan. 22 committee of the whole meeting that $60,000 was included in the county’s 2012-2013 budget for a possible grant to the village to help with the land acquisition. The funds, she added, would be contingent on an agreement with the village outlining future use and any future disposal of the property. The land is located within the village’s well field protection zones and is zoned agricultural.
The Port Williams Village Commission wanted to buy the land to protect its drinking water supply, as there was an issue with high nitrate levels in a nearby well. It’s believed farming practices in the vicinity are responsible for elevated nitrate counts.
Port Williams purchased 15 acres of land on Dec. 22, 2011 for $202,500 plus tax. They didn’t receive any financial assistance from other levels of government. At the time, the county wasn’t allowed to give the village a grant under the Municipal Government Act, but the province has since approved amendments.
“We’re now allowed to approve grants to villages,” Durling said.
However, some councillors believe the price the village paid for the land was inflated, not representative of fair market value. Pauline Raven said she wouldn’t support granting the village $60,000 as requested.
“I think it’s poor practice,” she said. “It’s not something we should enter into without a fair market value for the land.”
Chief Administrative Officer Bob Ashley said the previous council had taken a hands-off approach to the matter, but approved the grant in principle and put it in the budget. He said this issue has been around for a long time.
“Council felt at the time that although there was not a formal property evaluation done, the village commission had done its homework,” Ashley said. “An independent, third-party evaluation would have been best but they were under the gun with time pressure.”
Coun. Kim MacQuarrie said the village may have done its due diligence, but she wants to make the decision based on fair market value. She suggested a grant of one-third the fair market value, as determined by an independent third party.
Ashley suggested inviting the Village of Port Williams back to make another presentation and demonstrate its case. However, Coun. Wayne Atwater said he doesn’t think there’s any need.
“One more hypnosis class won’t make a difference,” Atwater said.
Councillors attempted several motions that were either defeated or not seconded. Ashley said he’d like to be able to write a report for council to reiterate the options and get a clear idea of what the municipality should do procedurally. He said there was no urgency, as the village has already been waiting for more than a year.
Council deferred a motion to grant the village $15,000 to the February committee of the whole session.
Port Williams Village Commission Chairman Lewis Benedict said he’d be in attendance for the Feb. 19 council discussion.