Thursday, March 13, 2014

Public concern over City Budget planning not quite a hot button issue yet

When it comes to public comment on the theme of budget planning, the early days are making for an easy time of it for City Council.

That wasn't what most anticipated heading in Monday's session, considering the volume of cautionary articles to the city in the weekly newspaper last week  on the topic of their taxation plans.

As well the nature of the verbal jousting on the topic of  the social media sites in the city and the back and forth of conversation of the coffee shops, suggested that anger was percolating over what many felt was a disconnect between council and its citizens.

Yet, when the first opportunity to challenge City council on matters economic was provided, the taxpayers and residents of Prince Rupert greeted it all with what appears to have been a collective meh.

As we outlined from our notes of the February 24th session of City Council, the opening round of discussions on Budget Planning provided for a bit of confusion and some short tempers as the topic of taxes and property assessment was reviewed two weeks ago.

The Budget discussion for 2014 got its start with that council meeting two weeks ago, the fallout from that session being a fair amount of concern in the community over rising assessment levels in the city and how that would impact on the tax load of residents once the Budget details are all wrapped up in May.

As they have done in past years, the City has plans for consultation with the public along the various stages of Budget formulation.

The first being a public comment opportunity on Monday night, which did not feature a torch bearing mob murmuring in the back of chambers, but instead the solitary figure of Larry Golden, he of the recent by-election campaign, there to ask two questions of Council on budget matters.

After what seemed like a rather stern reproach to Mr. Golden from the Mayor regarding brevity of comment, the opportunity to ask his questions got underway.

Mr. Golden had two fairly succinct issues in mind, one the cost of policing, which provided a short review from the City's Financial Officer Corinne Bomben, who outlined  the costs of policing and the requirements  towards the police service for the city.

His second question was on the theme of the Airport Ferry.

A topic which allowed Councillor Thorkelson and the Mayor to provide a review of the timeline of the ferry considerations as well as remembrances of the recent history of the transportation link to the airport.

 The question however, did provide the opportunity for City Manager  Robert Long to clarify some misconceptions on the deficit of the airport ferry, advising  that this year's projected deficit is in the 897,000 dollar range.

You can review the public comments session from the City's Video Archive, it starts at the thirty nine minute mark.

No doubt aware that the public will most likely start to take more notice as we get closer to the May deadline. Councillor Anna Ashley later in the night observed that Council may wish to keep extra dates open on their calendar should the demand rise for more background and more input from the public.

A sensible idea in an election year, however, one hopes that should the process truly be designed for consultation, that we not have a repeat of how last year's consultations ended.

For those that may have put the year behind them. In May of 2013,  the city offered up a large public consultation session at the Civic Centre, where three options of budget planning were reviewed for the public.

All of which were  then apparently discarded the very next day, as Council came up with a less than transparent option number four for its budget woes.

That was the budget solution that featured an arrangement with the city's workers, that has never been fully explained to the public. An agreement which was negotiated behind closed doors and with little in the way of information or review for the public.

Those memories of that public gathering and the then sudden change of plans from the City,  perhaps more than anything else, may account for the lack of interest at the moment.

Leaving Mr. Golden to find the line up to the microphone rather short on Monday.

We have more background on Council developments to be found on our City Council Discussion points archive.

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