Petrolia may give up Nicol cash for students

Featured | Front Page | News.

Petrolia CAO Manny Baron, seen here during a 2015 budget session, has resigned.

Petrolia Councillors are considering giving up a $20,000 year grant.

The money comes from the Nicol’s Scholarship Fund; the same group which has been giving out the prestigious Nicol’s Scholarship at LCCVI for 28 years. Former Petrolia resident Harold Robert Nicol set up a private foundation to give away his life savings after he passed away. Although he lived in Florida, he wanted to help his hometown, so, the Nicol Scholarships began. Students apply for the $10,000 grant and are evaluated by a panel of four, which includes the mayor of Petrolia, the principal of LCCVI, the Catholic priest at St. Philip’s and the canon of Christ Anglican Church in Petrolia.

The town has also benefited over the years, received over $500,000 to help preserve Victoria Hall and the library, which has a memorial plaque honouring Nicol at the front entrance.

Mayor John McCharles asked council to consider giving up that cash to help preserve the high school scholarship.

McCharles says over the years the trust fund has been well managed but an uncertain economy and stock market has lead to lower returns. And that means there is less money to create the scholarships.

McCharles says there will be “a lot fewer recipients this year than in past years.” Last year six students were given the $10,000 US scholarship.

That was down dramatically from a time when upwards of 20 students received the distinction. Over the years, 376 seniors have been named Nicol Scholars.

McCharles says the money the town receives annually could provide two more scholarships for LCCVI students. “This was the reason for the scholarships to begin with,” he says. “It seems now the town is receiving just as much as the students. For it to carry on, maybe we should look at doing something.”

Councillor Joel Field agreed suggesting the town should forego the grant this year to make two extra scholarships available.

But that concerned some councillors. Ross O’Hara and Liz Welsh questioned what that would do to the town’s plans for the year, saying this year’s budget was tight.

And O’Hara wanted to see the trust funds numbers before giving up the town’s yearly grant. “I would like to see it stay as it is,” he says pointing out the original will said the scholarships would likely only last 25 years. It’s been 28 years so far.

And Councillor Mary-Pat Gleeson says she might not be opposed to the move, but she would like to see any money the town gives up go directly to students who live in town.

McCharles wasn’t sure that would be possible. Municipal staff, which said if council wished to return the Nicol money, they would find a way to make the budget work, will look into the financial concerns so councillors can make a decision at the next meeting.

The scholarships will be given out at the end of June. McCharles is hopeful the town can help the long-standing tradition continue long after that.

“I would hate to see this fail – it is a positive for the community.”