In its brief 10-month history, Tantramar Town Council approved projects worth tens of thousands of dollars, but has been hung up for a full month on whether to sign off on a $3,200 grant for do-it-yourself air filters to protect against viruses such as COVID-19 and the flu.
At its committee of the whole meeting on Monday, council voted to send the grant application to its next regular meeting on November 14th where it will be discussed for the fourth time.
The saga began on September 25th when Ron Kelly Spurles, manager of tourism & business development, informed council that the independent, community development organization, Renaissance Sackville, had approved a $3,200 grant application from a local group.
Kelly Spurles said that the group, called Protect Our Province, wants to continue building simple DIY air purifiers, known as Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, that consist of little more than a box fan, four heavy-duty furnace filters, duct tape and cardboard.
“They have a proposal in to make some of these for some local non-profits,” Kelly Spurles said.
“They would make them and distribute them free-of-charge and also replace some of the filters in the local non-profits that already have them and then, they also want to hold a workshop for the public where the materials will be provided where people will be able to make their own boxes.”
Kelly Spurles said Renaissance Sackville had approved the $3,200 grant out of its $25,000 annual budget subject to final approval by town council.
But he didn’t seem to know who was in the group and how non-profit organizations would apply to receive the boxes.
“Could you please tell me how many boxes can be made with $3,200?” Councillor Bruce Phinney asked.
“To be honest, I don’t know,” Kelly Spurles replied.
Council then approved a motion to consider the grant application at its next regular meeting on October 10th.
“I just want to say that I will not be supporting this motion,” Councillor Matt Estabrooks said on October 10th.
“I asked some questions of staff,” he added, “and I don’t feel that it meets the criteria.”
Councillor Phinney followed by saying he could not support the motion either.
“First of all, I asked questions as to who’s involved in this group.,” Phinney said, adding that he hadn’t been given any names.
He said he had no idea what these boxes are.
“When I asked how much they cost to make, I had no answers there,” Phinney added.
“It’s a group that I don’t even know what they’re all about and what they’re doing and who they are and they want me to give $3,200 of the taxpayers’ money. It’s not the way to turn around and do things.”
Councillor Debbie Wiggins-Colwell said she couldn’t support the motion, but as she began to explain why, she was reminded that under the rules of procedure, someone who moves a motion, cannot then speak against it.
(Odd as it seems, Wiggins-Colwell had actually moved the motion to approve the $3,200 grant even though she did not support it.)
Councillor Barry Hicks said he felt council needed more information.
Councillor Michael Tower agreed and moved to send the matter to council’s next meeting.
Councillors Estabrooks and Wiggins-Colwell voted no, but the rest of council approved.
At this week’s meeting, council heard that Mt. A. Professor David Thomas leads the group that makes the Corsi-Rosenthal boxes which cost about $120 each. The group plans to build 16 new boxes and replace the filters in 15 of the existing ones.
When asked if the boxes are approved by the Canadian Standards Association, Town Engineer Jon Eppell said that the high-grade filters and other components used in the boxes are certified by the CSA.
He also suggested that the boxes provide enhanced protection against viruses and as such, meet higher air quality standards than required under existing regulations.
Councillor Estabrooks said he still didn’t feel that the project met the criteria set for Renaissance Sackville.
Councillor Tower said the group has held workshops in the past and at least three local churches are using the Corsi-Rosenthal boxes.
The discussion ended with a motion to send the grant application for approval to council’s meeting on November 14 with only Councillors Estabrooks and Phinney voting no.
Stay tuned for Round Four.
To read about the origins and effectiveness of the Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, click here.
For past coverage by CHMA’s Erica Butler, click here.