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Belleville council allows minister to speak about casino

Mayor Taso Christopher (left) and Rev. David Mundy at Monday's city council meeting. Photo by Emilie Quesnel, QNet News

Mayor Taso Christopher (left) and Rev. David Mundy at Monday’s city council meeting. Photo by Emilie Quesnel, QNet News

By Emilie Quesnel [1]

BELLEVILLE – Rev. David Mundy was finally given the opportunity Monday night to speak to Belleville city council about the effects of the casino to be built [2] on Bell Boulevard.

City Hall had originally rejected a request by Mundy [3], the lead minister at Bridge Street United Church [4], to appear before council. That decision was overturned by the councillors in a vote at Monday’s meeting.

Council’s vote was almost unanimous, with only Coun. Jackie Denyes voting against it. She said: “This matter is not up for consideration or debate.”

Coun. Jack Miller, who voted in favour of allowing Mundy to speak, said, “We need to understand all aspects of this, and I’m happy to hear what Rev. Mundy has to say.”

As the minister approached the podium, Coun. Mitch Panciuk thanked him for his patience and apologized for the difficult process leading up to Monday’s meeting.

Mundy began his presentation by saying he didn’t come to be adversarial or to argue, but because he wants to ensure that council will “put in place a comprehensive and measurable plan” to support people affected by gambling addiction. He added that the illness is often paired with drug or alcohol dependence, making it that much more important to organize services for these individuals. 

“I didn’t suggest that they change their minds on all of this. I didn’t anticipate that. Really I was here on the assumption that the casino was going to go ahead and so they needed to be responsible as a council and fulfill their duty to the citizens of this community,” Mundy told QNet News after he spoke to council.

Following the minister’s presentation, Mayor Taso Christopher said that 25 to 28 per cent – about 15,000 people – of Belleville’s population gamble on a regular basis.

This means there are already people in the area who are struggling with gambling addiction with no support, Christopher said. The casino would provide financial backing to start programs to help these people, he added. 

A motion was brought forward by Coun. Paul Carr to create “casino contribution reserve accounts” – essentially a plan for how to divide up the casino’s income.

Carr proposed that 85 per cent of the funds go toward infrastructure reserve, five per cent to economic development, five per cent for social programs to help “the most vulnerable in our community,” and the last five per cent to cover unexpected costs.

“Action is incumbent upon us as leaders,” Carr told council before the vote.

The motion was defeated six votes to three. Councillors who voted against it said it was premature and that council shouldn’t be making plans for money that hasn’t been made yet.

Those who voted yes said it was a good financial plan that would help lots of people.

Panciuk was one of the three people who voted in favour of Carr’s financial framework.

“The consequences affect people, their families and their children,” he said of the casino, adding that Carr’s plan would provide direction for dealing with these issues.

During an interview after the meeting, Panciuk expanded on his thoughts about the casino and its effects: