Tuesday, April 16, 2013

City Council Timeline, Special Budget Session, April 15, 2013

A lengthy night for Prince Rupert City Council, as they played host to a Special Session of Council on the topic of Budget Discussions.

With Councillor Carlick-Pearson absent from the proceedings, the remainder of Council settled in for a lengthy review of the city's current infrastructure concerns and the changing dynamic to the city's available revenue streams.

Monday night's session featured almost three hours of conversation on the issues of Budget preparation. The first portion of the meeting taken up by a wide ranging review by CFO Dan Rodin on the impact of assessment changes in the community and the concerns that they provide for budget planning.

From there, those in the public gallery were asked to provide feedback on what they believe the City should do with their Financial planning.

Minutes from April 15, 2013

In Attendance April 15, 2013

Mayor Jack Mussallem-- Present 
Councillor Anna Ashley-- Present 
Councillor Judy Carlick-Pearson-- Absent
Councillor Gina Garon-- Present 
Councillor Nelson Kinney-- Present 
Councillor Jennifer Rice-- Present 
Councillor Joy Thorkelson-- Present

Video Archive for April 15, 2013  
Audio Archive for April 15, 2013 

The first task of business for Council on the 11th was the usual adoption of the agenda with the inclusion of some extra items. (0:00-1:00)

(1:00-47:00)  Mr. Rodin provided some background prior to the public comments portion of the night's proceedings. Outlining some information he had received from Assessments BC that might be of interest to the Budget discussions planned for the night. BC Assessment has conducted an extensive review for Prince Rupert, which provides for declines in assessed property values for the community. Of concern to the CFO were the price decreases for properties that are capped, which can impact on the tax rate. With the decreases in place, the City would generate 10,000 dollars less. Utilities will generate an increase of 11,000 dollars.

The main thrust of his review was the value of Port development and the grants the City receives from those developments, with assessed value of port property dropping the city won't generate as much revenue as last year. He explained the various other categories of light industry and business which also offer challenges to the city's financial planning. Overall the impact of the assessment changes and the closure of McMillan Fish results in about 179,000 dollars less in taxes for this year.

He recounted the troubles of the last few years that have contributed to the problems with planning budgets with those parameters in place.

Councillor Ashley inquired as to the Business taxation and how that impacts on the city's financial concerns.

Councillor Thorkelson asked for clarification on market and non market declines, looking to gain a bit more information on that topic.

Further to the Assessment issues, Mr. Rodin then went on to deliver more troubling news for Council, outlining the nature of potential tax increases and the impact that they would have on homeowners in the community.

Councillor Thorkelson inquired as to house price increases in the community and how that translates into the city's financial planning.

Councillor Garon asked about tax deferral and what impact that has on the city's ability to collect tax revenue.

His final document for review on the night was a look at Financial Plan options, first on his list was to suggest that the City not shut down City Hall for one day a week as it could impact on staffing for the city. He advised that they were limiting their expenditures under the Operating fund. He did explain how the City was moving forward with its maintenance requirements on infrastructure. He then explained the issues related to Public Works funding coming out of General revenue and how that results in some projects being deferred or put on hold.

His conclusion provided for a recommendation of a two percent tax increase and drawing down on their surplus by 275,000 dollars to minimize any tax increase, as well as reducing the paving budget by 175,000 dollars.

Councillor Ashley asked a number of questions of Mr. Rodin, as to the current level of the surplus, which is approximately 1.6 million.

Councillor Garon followed up on the surplus discussions, inquiring as to the various aspects of the various budget categories.

The Mayor then asked Mr. Rodin as to the timeline of Budget discussions and the late nature of the financial information that Council has been provided regarding the tax adjustments from BC Assessments. Mr. Rodin explained the nature of the process between BC Assessments and municipalities.

The Mayor then spoke out against at Tax increase for the community, suggesting that the City take ten percent off autonomous and semi-autonomous groups. Looking to gain some of the 179,000 dollars lost from the tax rolls.

Councillor Garon asked for an explanation as to what those groups are, the Mayor outlined that they are such groups as the Performing Arts Centre, Golf Course and such.

A ten percent roll back would bring about 140,000 dollars to the city.

(47:00- 1:15:00) The Mayor then Invited the City's Head of Engineering Bill Horne, to provide an overview of the city's Public and Capital works requirements and planning for the year ahead.

He then outlined the scope of the City's Public Works department and their goals and requirements for the year going forward.

The Duncan Road Sewer extension in the Industrial park , the LED lighting project and 9th Avenue East were some of the projects that he outlined.

Some roofing projects were outlined for a number of facilities that the City owns.

Required bridge repairs for 2nd Avenue West and 6th Avenue East were outlined.

He reviewed the parameters of the paving budget which is at 450,000 dollars. He advised the Mayor that the city has fallen behind on its annual paving projects and has been for the last ten years.

He outlined the nature of Carbon offsets and what impact they may have on the financial planning for the City.

The city could receive some benefits from solid waste, but cautioned that there would be expenses required for the expansion of the landfill site. He advised as to how the City closes sections of the landfill site and the process required.

He then outlined a number of water orientated projects and requirements for the City, including water rehabilitation.

A review of the city's vehicle fleet was provided, as was a look at the plans ahead for the cemetery and Greenhouse infrastructure for the city located there.

Councillor Ashley asked as to the difference that taking out the 175,000 from the paving budget would have on the city's paving plans for the year ahead.

Councillor Kinney asked about any planned repairs to the Recreation complex, Mr. Rodin took the question and provided the overview of those plans and the various challenges that the recreation complex faces.

Mr. Rodin also reviewed the challenges that the Ferry Dock is providing for the city, with repairs required to that infrastructure, which could reach as high as 700,000 dollars.

He also outlined the Information technology and other upgrades required by the city.

He provided the background on the City Hall painting project and what impact holding off on that might provide for the city.

Golf course, land purchase items  and public works purchases wrapped up his presentation.

Councillor Kinney returned to his concerns over the recreation budget.

Councillor Ashley went back to the road projects asking about the nature of the city's paving projects.

Councillor Garon outlined her thoughts on the recreation projects, suggesting that savings from some of the projects there be turned over to the paving department, likewise she had concerns over the Greenhouse renovations. She also advised that had she known about the funding shortfalls she wouldn't have approved previous capital projects. She followed up with the suggestion that the city rent a scissor lift until they have resources to purchase.

Councillor Thorkelson asked if the city does the paving with their own crew, it is contracted out to a private company.

Public Consultation Process

(1:15:00- 2:15:00 )With the overview out of the way, Rupertites took to the microphones to offer up their thoughts on the Budget deliberations, snapshots of the six citizen commentaries from those who offered up their contributions can be found below:

1-- A concern over fire and police expenses, compared to our neighbours to the east. Estimated at a two million dollar difference. A suggestion that the city provide for some oversight on the Fire Department, considering a volunteer option.  For the RCMP, a concern over the cost of policing between Prince Rupert and Terrace and that the city be more vigorous in reducing that number. A concern of the cost of the Airport Ferry, though there may not be much that can be done about that until a fixed link is developed.

2-- A question over the LED lighting in place in the city and the costing of it, what will be the payback of the new lighting system and how long will it take to receive benefit. Another question was on the topic of the 9th Avenue East reconstruction project and is there a strategic plan in place for future projects of similar nature. As well an answer as to how much this one portion of road of 9th Avenue has cost the city. The final thought on the topic was that the city could use major contractors in town to take on some of the city's infrastructure needs, looking to piggy back off of some of the major industrial projects in town.

Councillor Garon inquired with a follow up to the theme of 9th Avenue East,  as to why the City had not contracted that job out ,  the explanation being that it was easier for the City to handle it in house. She also inquired as to whether the City should not reconsider future projects such as these to be put out for contract.

Councillor Ashley followed up the conversation on LED lighting and how it may help with carbon offsets.

Councillor Thorkelson weighed in on the discussion over the issue of contracting out, outlining her thoughts on when or why the city may wish to utilize contractors, though she was of the opinion that the city should not seek out contractors on every single proposed project.

The Mayor outlined the current mandate and abilities of the City Works department to tackle some of the projects that haven't been tackled yet.

3-- A comment as to whether the City is receiving a fair share of revenue from Economic Development in the region. Reviewing some economic and political concerns over the development that is going on, but with the City still having to scrape a budget together to make do. A concern over the Port Development and its contribution to the city's financial requirements. The speaker was concerned that all the development was taking place without much benefit to the community.

Mr. Rodin outlined the current situation between the Port and money that is provided to the City through the payment in lieu process.

Councillor Ashely inquired as to what percentage of land value that the City says the land is worth as opposed to what the Port values it at.

4-- A question from a local citizen, City employee and CUPE member, regarding the issue of potential closure of City Hall for budgetary concerns. With a suggestion that Council find other aspects of solving their budget troubles than service reductions.

5-- Questions on the Financial Five Year Plan and what the Finance Expense is, compared to what Fiscal Expense involves.  As well as to the status of some of the early recommendations on the Budget process, including staffing level options, as well as possible fee increases on the airport ferry were among some of the topics. The topic of a closure of City Hall was again brought up, the speaker suggesting that perhaps unpaid leave be offered for employees to take advantage of in order to find savings.

6-- Three questions one on the sale of Atlin Terminal parking lot, the answer to that question is that it has become a complicated negotiation with the potential buyer, the money that eventually comes from that sale will go to the land reserve. A follow up question on the nature of the parking meters at Atlin and in some locations around town and when they go into effect this year. The Atlin lot will continue to generate income as long as the City owns it.  Another question on the nature of financial concerns over money put on hold for use of an Emergency Services building, with that project now on hold, that money has apparently been shifted towards other areas. Another question on the Airport Ferry, this one on the topic of the subsidy that the City provides to operate it, as well as the nature of the charges for those that travel on the Ferry.

Councillor Thorkelson offered up some commentary on the nature of the charges to and from the Airport on the Ferry and what City was planning to examine in regard to that.  Mr. Rodin offering up the indication being that the current situation as far as charges will remain the same.

The final question from the speaker being that he didn't want to see any tax increases for the public and an observation on the topic of CityWest, his final thought being that the City should seek further money from CityWest. He offered up the thought that perhaps the City should give some consideration to selling CityWest.

With the procession of public contributors at an end, the Council moved on to other business.

Reports and Recommendations

(2:15:00--2:16:00 ) Mr. Rodin reviewed his earlier comments on the impact of the assessment issue and the reduction in revenues that the city will find from it. He suggested that perhaps Council may wish to defer any direction to staff until April 22nd, with two more weeks to consider options.

(2:16:00--2:19:00 ) Councillor Thorkelson moved that the City meet with the Prince Rupert Port Authority to discuss the 153,000  dollar shortfall of taxes to the city and seek a donation to cover off that shortfall from the Port. Councillor Thorkelson expanded on her theme of pursuing the Port for further financial concern, suggesting that if the Port could not or would not provide money to the City for amenities, then perhaps the Port may wish to make commitment to pick up the 10 per cent that the City plans to cut from the community groups that it provides funding for.

The motion to contact the Port was adopted.

(2:19:00--2:30:30 ) Councillor Ashley suggested that Staff provide a report as to what it would look like to have a five percent cut across the board for all city departments, outside of the fixed costs such as RCMP.  Councillor Rice wondered if perhaps they should not consider different percentages as options to consider.  Councillor Garon, said that she was not in favour of closing City Hall's hours of operation, suggesting it be left out of any of Mr. Rodin's findings.

Councillor Thorkelson stepped in at this point and advised that she doesn't believe that the percentage number should not be any higher than five percent and that instead the city should be "putting the boots to the Port".  She also expressed her belief that there should not be any cuts to City Hall staff and offered up the thought about how asking the CUPE members to sacrifice a day's pay wouldn't translate into great savings for the City and may drive the CUPE members to other employers. She would like to see other items and make sure that the city isn't falling apart around them.

She appears to have suggested that she believed most residents in the city were able to accept tax increases to help towards keeping up with the city's requirements.

Councillor Ashley offered up some comments on Councillor Thorkelson's points, Councillor Rice expressed her thought that the report should examine 5 and less as opposed to 5 percent or more.

The motion to seek further guidance from staff in the way of the five percent report was then called.

That motion was adopted.

(2:30:30 --2:36:00 ) The Mayor then reviewed his thoughts on the proposal to take away 10 percent from the autonomous and semi autonomous groups, outlining that his proposal would help to a portion of the pending shortfall.

Councillor Garon outlined that she had heard from a number of citizens over the tax issue and that she had no interest in any tax increase for the city's residents. She also explained her concern over the late nature of discovery of the even more troubling financial situation as outlined by Mr. Rodin at the start of the night's session.

Councillor Ashley had comments on the ten per cent proposal for autonomous and semi autonomous groups, expressing her worries over the fact that the City had given them the go ahead and now were going to take back the ten percent under discussion. She expressed her support to Councillor Thorkelson's proposal to approach the Port to cover off that 10 percent. A further discussion on the nature of where the City could access money to cover off the shortfall continued.

(2:36:00--2:37:00) On the topic of the CFO's Report on the Impact of Property Tax increase, Mr. Rodin had no further information to offer up on it,  the report was then accepted for information purposes.

(2:37:00--2:40:00 ) A report on the Pineridge Apartment Complex on Immanuel Street, Mr. Grodecki outlined the report that structure be declared a hazard and recommended the wreck and removal of the structure.

Councillor Ashley asked a question on the nature of the arrears of the utility bill, Councillor Garon followed with a question on the nature of those arrears.

The motion was adopted.

(2:40:00--2:41:00) An Estimate of 2013 Municipal Taxes, with a recommendation that council receive the report for information purposes.

A report on Outstanding Council Initiatives

(2:41:00--2:42:30) Mr. Rodin had nothing to add under this category.

Reports, Questions and Inquiries from members of Council

(2:41:30--2:44:30 ) Council Thorkelson had some comments regarding media reports that the City is presently running a 500.000 dollar deficit, she asked Mr. Rodin if he agreed with her that the City had never run a 500,000 dollar deficit since he had been hired. He added his confirmation to that statement that she was correct. She outlined her thoughts on those media reports and how the City is struggling with a budget and equating it to running a deficit and she wanted to clear up that misunderstanding.

The Mayor suggested that perhaps the media reporters in the city should be invited to a session with Mr. Rodin to learn the different items regarding budgets and deficits. She in particular had concerns over what she called irresponsible reporting from the CBC.

(2:44:30 -- 2:47:00) Councillor Ashley asked for a few items to be discussed at the next council meeting, the recent windstorm and its effect on the 2nd Avenue Bridge and the need for a policy on invitations to the Mayor or Council to go out of town but require out of pocket payment.

The Mayor made comment on the Bridge situation, advising that the City emergency vehicles would use the road access along the CN tracks in that area.

(2:47:30--2:49:00 ) Councillor Garon offered up a reminder of the Victims' Services session coming up shortly, urging all Council members to give some thought to attending it. She also thanked those in the public gallery for attending the Budget Session.

(2:49:00--2:50:30 ) Councillor Kinney asked a question of Mr. Rodin regarding the local government intern application, the City had not heard back at this time from Port Edward or Regional District.

With that the session came to an end and was adjourned.

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