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Council agrees to help

Trust fund account to be set up

City of Powell River councillors are looking at setting up a bank account and collecting public donations to help in the rebuilding of the Quebec town devastated by a rail accident. 

On July 6, a 73-car freight train carrying crude oil ran away and derailed near the centre of Lac-Mègantic. The massive explosion claimed the lives of 47 people and destroyed over 30 buildings including the library and archives. 

Last month Powell River city council received a letter from Port McNeill Mayor Gerry Furney urging local governments to help the small Quebec town to rebuild.

In the letter Furney said that Port McNeill town council had agreed to contribute $1 for each person in the northern Vancouver Island community to help with the “psychological and social rebuilding that will be required.” One dollar for each resident of the City of Powell River would be approximately $13,000.

“We don’t have $13,000 sitting there half-way through the year,” said Mac Fraser, Powell River’s chief administrative officer (CAO) to council at a special meeting on July 30. “This shouldn’t stop you from being humanitarians though.”

With five months left in the current budget year, city staff will look at a more long-term solution to be implemented in next year’s budget and will present different options to council at future meetings. “It doesn’t feel as good as sending money tomorrow,” said Fraser, “but the town is not going to be rebuilt in the next few months.”

Mayor Dave Formosa brought up the idea of setting up a disaster relief trust fund in future budgets that would allow council to send money as it sees fit. 

Councillor Maggie Hathaway urged council to be cautious of the precedent that it sets if the city sends relief funds. It is rarely ever the responsibility of local governments to fund disaster relief, a burden that normally falls on provincial and federal governments, she added. “I think it sets a dangerous precedent because how do you choose who to help,” she said.

The city will be setting up an account to take public donations with the goal of sending money to aid in the long-term rebuilding of the Quebec town. Council will further discuss the issue of establishing a disaster relief trust fund at future council meetings.

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