Warden, literacy group spar over outreach worker funding

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was changed from the version which was posted last week to correct a quote from Warden Brian Marchand.

ARICHAT: The Warden of Richmond County and the head of the Richmond County Literacy Network (RCLN) are laying blame at the other’s feet for the recent demise of a community outreach and support worker position that had served hundreds of Strait area seniors over the past 28 months.

Richmond municipal councillors voted unanimously at their December 22 council meeting to defeat a motion that would have provided $11,333 to allow the outreach worker post to continue until March 31, pending discussions with the Town of Port Hawkesbury.

RCLN coordinator Millie Hatt subsequently told the Arichat meeting that this development will result in the end of the position filled by Jenny Comeau since the autumn of 2014, and a January 2 announcement on the RCLN’s Facebook page confirmed that Comeau had been relieved of her post as of December 30 “due to a lack of funding.”

 

Brian Marchand

However, Warden Brian Marchand insisted at the council meeting and in subsequent social media postings that the literacy network must share responsibility for the post. He also chastised Hatt and her colleagues for refusing to consider a municipal proposal to use approximately $10,194 of the RCLN’s reserve funds to help keep the position running in January while Richmond officials consulted their counterparts from Port Hawkesbury and Inverness County about a new financial arrangement.

“I asked if [RCLN] was prepared to continue this, since Port Hawkesbury is prepared to put in 20 per cent, and we have some extra funding from the [provincial] Department of Health [and Wellness], and I guess the remainder was in the $9,000-to $10,000 range,” Marchand recalled during the council session.

“Their response to our request to use the surplus funds they had was for council to spend a considerable amount of money to continue this. We needed to get ourselves stabilized in this and know where we’re going with funding and what the community could afford.”

Following the meeting, Marchand told The Reporter that he is still hoping to launch discussions with municipal officials in Port Hawkesbury and Inverness County this month, regarding the possibility of developing a funding package to re-launch the community outreach and support worker position.

In defending RCLN’s refusal to commit funds from its reserves, Hatt declared that the not-for-profit network has already poured $12,500 into Comeau’s post since it was launched in 2014 as a year-long pilot project with additional support from the municipal and provincial governments, the Strait-Richmond Community Health Board, the Strait-Richmond Health Care Foundation, the United Way of Cape Breton and the now-defunct Guysborough-Antigonish-Strait Health Authority.

She added that the RCLN has also provided office space in Arichat and St. Peter’s, as well as additional in-kind assistance for Comeau, despite Hatt’s insistence that the outreach worker post was not actually part of the RCLN’s mandate.

“We were the vehicle for this project – it fell in our hands,” Hatt told the December council meeting.

“I think we have done more than expected of us over the last two years to provide this service to the residents, and most of the people on council here have dealt with individuals and know the value of this project to the residents.”

Hatt also defended the concept of the RCLN having reserve funds, as she pointed out that the network was forced to use $14,800 of these monies in 2015 and another $21,145 in 2016, on top of rent payments that reached $21,987 in 2015 and $26,449 in 2016.

“For us to take $10,000 out of our reserves at this point in time to put into a project that is not under the mandate of the Richmond County Literacy Network would not be prudent for us to do,” Hatt remarked.

According to the RCLN’s Facebook page, Comeau has served 473 individuals within 318 families through her work as community outreach and support worker.