Nicol money raises questions at Petrolia budget session

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The issue of whether Petrolia should give money meant to maintain Victoria Hall to high school students was one of the few concerns at a public budget meeting.

A handful of people – only about five who weren’t either town staff, volunteers or members of the media – were on hand as Director of Finance Rick Charlebois outlined the town’s proposed 2017 budget.

The town’s spending has risen about four per cent in the $6 million plus operating budget, however that translates to only a one per cent increase in the municipal portion of the tax bill. The net effect of the increase would likely be about $3 for a home valued at $100,000.

Charlebois walked the crowd through the budget for almost 45 minutes but when the time came for questions, the issue of the Nicol Scholarship money was raised.

Town Council plans to give the $10,000 US meant to help pay for renovations to Victoria Hall to the scholarship fund in 2017 so that one more student can have a good start. Last year, the fund could only provide three scholarships even with the town’s gift.

Resident Norm Sutherland pointed out there have been over 300 Nicol scholars in the past who have been asked to contribute to the fund but have not. “That money that was supposed to go to the town is now going to the high school and is now coming from the taxpayer,” he says. “I’m disappointed with that and I think the matter should be revisited.”

Another woman, who did not give her name also voiced concern saying Charlebois had just mentioned Victoria Hall will need nearly $90,000 in upgrades this year alone. “That man was very kind and thoughtful to leave the money here; why isn’t that money being placed where the man desired?”

Councillor Ross O’Hara, who voiced similar concerns both this year and last, says the town started receiving the money after the scholarship fund had been in existence 25 years. It was supposed to end then with the remaining funds going to the town.

At that time, the executors talked with O’Hara, who was mayor at the time, and offered to continue the program giving the town $20,000 to help maintain Victoria Hall and the Library over time. “That’s why I was opposed on budget day to give it back to the scholars,” he says.

Mayor John McCharles assured the taxpayers this was a temporary situation which is re-evaluated each year.

And he believes since Nicol also set up the scholarship fund, McCharles believes he would be happy the town is giving some of its cash to the students.

Now that the public budget session, which is required by law, is complete, council is likely to look at the budget during a regular council meeting in December and approve it before the end of 2016.

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