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Village in bind
Fort Simpson moves forward with lease bylaw despite little support from GNWT

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Monday, April 10, 2017

Liidlii Kue/Fort Simpson
In the words of Fort Simpson Coun. Sean Whelly, the construction of a new office building in Fort Simpson is "a quest to give Fort Simpson a better future."

NNSL photograph

Fort Simpson's administration currently rents space in the village's visitor information centre, but has been contemplating a move for the past two years to an office building being constructed by Nogha Enterprises Ltd. - NNSL file photo

The building is being constructed under the management of Nogha Enterprises Ltd. and includes a prospective space to house village staff and administration, whose offices are currently located in the Visitor Information Centre.

But senior administrative officer Bill Bennett said he feels the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs disapproves of the village's desire to switch spaces.

On April 3, councillors directed Bennett to draw up a bylaw that will allow the village to enter a 20-year lease for the new office space, which would cost just over $3.5 million over the lifespan of the lease.

A similar bylaw was passed in first and second reading in January, but the village was sent back to the drawing board by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs due to an incomplete cost-benefit analysis.

Since then, Bennett said he has not received any positive feedback from the department on how to move forward with the lease.

"It feels like I'm just spinning tires in mud with no way out. That's my feeling at the moment," Bennett said.

In the past, Bennett has said he feels department staff are against the village leasing office space from Nogha Enterprises.

In February, Bennett told councillors that the department would require village council to show where Fort Simpson can come up with the money for the lease, which costs $177,870 annually and would come out of the village's operating budget.

Coun. Liza McPherson, who is also the executive director of Liidlii Kue First Nation, said the lack of government support for the village's decision to lease from Nogha is "very sad."

MACA deputy minister Eleanor Young said the issue lies with the village's spending bylaw instead of the office lease itself.

In order to commit money for the lease, Fort Simpson passed the first and second reading of a longterm spending bylaw, which needs ministerial approval.

"There are a number of procedural things the department requires to see before the minister approves (this bylaw)," she said.

As the department's requirements have not been met, she added the bylaw had been sent back to the village.

Whelly said the lease agreement is an important step forward for the village and would help boost the community's economy.

"Leasing this building, and thereby making sure it happens, will show Fort Simpson can work together to make its own way and make a better future," he said.

"The offices will modernize and rejuvenate the community."

But not all councillors are convinced a lease is the right move for the village. Coun. Mike Rowe questioned whether the longterm spending required for the lease could be better used elsewhere.

"That's really setting us back from other things we can do," Rowe said.

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