Thursday, March 12, 2015

City Council Timeline, Monday, March 9, 2015

Council members and city staff almost matched the number of people in the audience on Monday night, as the City took their March 9th Council session to the Lester Centre, part of their Budget Consultation program for 2015.

A crowd that perhaps numbered around 20 or so, took in Chief Financial Officer Corinne Bomben's Budget update and following her presentation, a few of those in the audience asked a number of questions related to some of the items from her review.

When they weren't offering up answers to questions, the Mayor and Councillors Cunningham and Thorkelson carried all of the commentary from the Council members.  Making use of the evening to outline some of their thoughts on budget related issues, particularly on the impact of provincial and federal decisions that have made for a tough situation for the community.

Of particular focus was the theme of provincial taxation caps on industrial land and federal policies that Council members say reduces the opportunity for the City to benefit from industry in the region.

Monday also offered up the opportunity for the City to test out an new community engagement mechanism, making use of computer and smart phone voting for a list of four test questions to showcase the plan, something which the City hopes to use in the future.

For some background on the evening's scheduled items of note see the Regular Council Agenda for March 9 here.

Further information from our overview and permanent placement in the video archive can be found below, with the permanent record of the minutes added as they are posted to the city Website.

In Attendance March 9, 2015

Mayor Lee Brain -- Present  
Councillor Barry Cunningham-- Present
Councillor Councillor Blair Mirau -- Present
Councillor Wade Niesh-- Present 
Councillor Nelson Kinney-- Present
Councillor Gurvinder Randhawa-- Present
Councillor Joy Thorkelson-- Present 

Video Archive for March 9, 2015

( 0:00- 1:15 ) The Mayor started off the evening, by reviewing and having Council adopt past minutes and agendas, following which he turned the proceedings over to Ms. Bomben.

( 1:15--14:00 )  Report from the City's Chief Financial Officer, providing an overview of the 2015 Budget Preparations -- Ms. Corinne Bomben outlined a shorter version of her presentation from the 23rd of February, a Cole's Notes version if you will, of her financial blue print for the year ahead.

She offered up some explanations of the Budget requirements for the year ahead and the recommended increase on the mill rate of 1.9 per cent. Providing further background for the audience as to how the City works out its mill rate comparisons.

There was also a breakdown on the impact to Taxpayers and an explanation of the formula in place to determine the municipal levy. Providing a review as to how the money collected by way of taxation was allocated towards City Services and operations.

A fair portion of the presentation focused on the effect of Provincial Tax Caps and how they reduce the city's abilities to collect taxes on industrial properties that fall under those Cap areas.

Her video presentation highlighted the shift of the tax burden to the residential and commercial taxpayers as a result of those capped values.

She also introduced the prospect of engaging the community in a discussion on the creation of a fund for Asset replacement and reserves, observing that some communities have chosen to implement a two percent mill rate increase annually on a perpetual basis to address for asset replacement.

With that in mind she outlined the current infrastructure deficit for the City was in the range of  288 million dollars.

Included in her review was the recommendation from staff that the City give consideration to the two percent mill rate increase as a way of approaching the issue, though she stressed it was only a point for discussion at the moment and for engagement with the community for the year ahead.

As part of that engagement, she added that the Financial office welcomes alternate considerations on the issue as well.

For the most part her presentation at the Lester Centre offered less background on the nature of the Legacy Corporation, compared to her presentation to Council of February.

The Legacy Corporation was mentioned mostly by the CFO in passing, as part of her wrap up to the presentation, related to the need to address infrastructure concerns facing the community.

Ms. Bomben's Lester Centre presentation wrapped up after approximately twelve minutes.

For more background on the larger Budget overview, see her original Report to Council from February 23rd here.

Community Engagement on Budget Issues

( 14:00 -- 1:08:00 )  An Opportunity for residents in attendance to make comment and ask Questions related to Budget items

Our normal timeline approach was not used for this review, as the topics appeared at various times throughout the one hour opportunity for discussion. 

Instead, we've attempted to keep the string of comments related to specific areas of interest together, providing for a better consolidation of the nature of the discussion of each particular item of interest.

With few residents in the audience and of those numbers, even fewer it seemed inclined to discuss the issues it looked at times that the engagement period would be a pretty short event.

But as things moved forward, a few of those in the audience took to the microphone to offer comment and ask questions.

The first observation came from a gentleman who had thoughts on the declining population of the city and how it is resulting in a large tax burden for those that have remained in the community. With the speaker seeking to have Council hold the line on further increases to taxpayers.

Items of interest related to the Legacy Corporation and how it could be used

Former City Councillor Gina Garon provided for the majority of questions related to the Budget Consultation on the night, with concerns related to energy costs and the need to find ways to reduce them as well as questions on the city's staffing succession plans and some of the other items that have been identified under civic costs.

She also offered up some questions on whether the funding for the city's GIS mapping program could not come from the Legacy Corporation.

That question provided Mayor Brain with the opportunity to provide a thumb nail sketch of some of the particulars when it comes to the city owned corporation. Highlighting how the Legacy Corporation was developed to create a fund for the future of Prince Rupert and for the city's infrastructure requirements.

The Mayor suggested that  with all of the demands required for the planned growth related to LNG industry development, some of the money from the Legacy corporation could be used for staffing requirements related to those needs.

Ms. Bomben did offer up caution on that theme, reminding Council  that items such as the GIS mapping system are not related to just major projects.

And with that, some could be considered more towards the normal operating environment, observing that the City should not be using other funds that might be needed for infrastructure to augment operating costs for the future.

The Mayor then reviewed how the City is approaching its budget deliberations both for its usual requirements and with an eye on the prospect of increased economic activity in the community.

One other participant on the evening made a number of inquiries, the first related to the proposed mill rate increase related to the infrastructure issues and the need for a reserve fund and the impact that it will have on rate payers in the city. The Mayor observed that at the moment the concept is only something to be explored with the community and is not to be implemented this year.

She also had a number questions related to seeking more background on the Legacy Corporation and how it is designed to work within the civic structure.

Observing that there is some confusion in the community as to how the money should be directed or invested. She also suggested that there is a need for more information to be provided to the public regarding the plans of the Legacy Corporation and how the city plans to make use of it in the future.

The mayor provided a bit more information on the agreement with Exxon for Lot 444 and noted that Legacy will be collecting income for the city, he also directed residents to examine the incorporation documents on the City's website to review the checks and balances in place regarding its formation.

He offered up some examples of the infrastructure issues in the community such as bridges, dams and roads and how Legacy Corporation could assist with income for those concerns.

However for this budget period, the Legacy Corporation funding would be directed for staffing requirements for LNG development, with some of the income received to help fund extra staff for a period of time with a sunset clause.

The goal for the City when it comes to the Legacy Corporation, is to build up a bank account from Legacy, so the community has a fund to put towards large scale core infrastructure issues.

RCMP replacement building and recycling concerns

Later in the evening, Ms. Garon would return to the microphone to ask about the status of the situation related to the RCMP detachment, which now has returned to the forefront of civic concerns.

She was advised by the Chief Financial Officer that the city is picking up the project where they left it off at, with a plan to revisit the proposal that was in place in 2012.  The previous contractor will be consulted and a report will be provided to bring things up to speed. There however at this time is no money in the budget to move the project forward.

A bit later in the evening, Councillor Thorkelson offered her own observations to the RCMP building issue and highlighted many of the challenges that the design of the proposed detachment offered, with a number of conditions in place by the RCMP as to the location of the building and the special requirements related to it.

Ms Garon also reminded Council of her past commitment towards recycling and associated issues and asked that Council address the issue with Regional District as the current process ins't working very well.

The Mayor provided a short update on the status of the recycling station situation at the Kaien Road facility to try and address some of the issues that have been made public in recent months.  He also provided some thoughts on the impact that LNG development could have on the city's waste storage issues.

A need to look outside the box on infrastructure issues

One other item raised by a resident at the microphone was a concern that the city wasn't looking outside of the box, particularly when it came to infrastructure issues such as bridges. With a suggestion that council look at developing surface roads to work around those areas where bridges currently are located, providing for less cost in providing access to those areas in question.

Councillor Cunningham handled that question on behalf of Council, suggesting that the city would be examining such concepts as a bypass around the bridge if it was found that the financial burden would be insurmountable when it comes to any required bridge replacements.

Provincial and Federal issues related to Prince Rupert taxation ability

One recurring theme on the night involved the City delivering its position related to Federal and Provincial regulations, issues that some on Council suggest is leaving the City of Prince Rupert at a disadvantage.

The topic was introduced as part of Ms. Bomben's overview of the budget plan for 2015 and carried on further by the Mayor, Councillor Cunningham and Councillor Thorkelson.

All of whom offered up their thoughts on how there is a need to reinforce with both Federal and Provincial officials as to the burden that they are creating for municipalities.

The Mayor reviewed those conditions that the province has put in place related to industrial caps and how the City can't access a full share of taxation revenue. He stressed how this was not a port issue, but rather one of provincial legislation.

Councillor Cunningham also spoke to the issue, observing how he had it wrong last year when he was constantly addressing his concerns towards the Port Corporation, when it is apparent now to him,  that the real issue is related to the provincial government's moves on the issue of industrial caps.

He made a point of reviewing the rates that industrial groups such as Maher Terminals are capped at, while the commercial and residential rate payers have to carry the larger burden.  He stressed his desire to get the message across to the provincial and Federal governments to address the issues.

Councillor Thorkelson was by far the most adamant on the issue of provincial and federal impact, leading off her thoughts by observing that if residents want their taxes to go down, that the City would not be doing it by reducing city services any further.

Highlighting how the increases of 1 or 2 per cent or so of recent years, just cover off the costs of living that the city has to meet.

To work on the issue she suggested that Council and the city's residents need to contact the area's  MLA to address the issues of the port cap in the Legislature.  As well, Councillor Thorkelson also recommended that residents write letters of their own to both Provincial and Federal officials, to tell them that it's unfair how municipal governments are being put in the position that they currently are in.

She also outlined how the City, through its work with the newly formed Northwest alliance should work together with other communities in the region. Looking to get the attention of the Provincial government and to gain better access to revenue streams, through revenue sharing agreements from such regional projects as mining and other industrial developments outside of municipal boundaries.

She reviewed her time on Council over the years and  how this issue continues to dominate their considerations and how she doesn't know where else the city can cut.

Her final point making for a strong declaration to the audience, that there is a need for the provincial and federal governments to understand the issues that municipalities face.

Potential Salary increases for Council members

One of the final comments on the evening related to the status of a previous salary increase proposal for Council and the Mayor and if it was included in this years budget considerations.

Councillor Cunningham observed that Council had looked at the issue, with a potential wage increase for Council members now off the table. Though he would still like to see the Mayor's salary increased to full time status and wage, but at the moment it is not part of the budget discussion.

After a comment from a resident of thanks for the work of council on the issues, the Mayor brought the public session to a close.

Offering up his closing thoughts, hoping that the Council had provided some clarity on the issues and how they are being pro-active to tackle them. He made mention on how well Council is working together, of the work of staff and how morale is up, as well he made mention of some of the positive developments in the community and the city's plans for the future.

( 1:08:00 -- 1:28:00  ) Introduction of resident participation platforms for Council events

As part of the evening's Budget Presentation, the City also debuted a new community engagement mechanism by way of seeking comment and registering votes on selected items as introduced by City Staff.

The Mayor outlined how the audience participation process would work and then listed four questions for those at the Lester Centre or at home to review and provide answers on.

1) Do You consider a 1.9 per cent increase to the mill rate to be reasonable?
Yes ( 25  )    No ( 9 )

2)  Do you agree that the City needs an asset management plan?
Yes ( 29  )    No ( 1 )

3) Do you support using Legacy Inc. funds to provide the capacity the City needs to plan for major projects?
Yes ( 29  )    No ( 3 )

4) Do you support a full time Mayor
Yes ( 27  )    No ( 5  )

And while the audience sample was obviously not large enough to offer up a true reading of how the community may feel about the issues presented, the concept of seeking consultation from the public through the electronic options is something that could prove to be instructive once it gets wider acceptance.

With the first experiment in audience participation complete, the Mayor brought the Council session for Monday evening to an end. Reminding the audience that there is one more public consultation period taking place on March 23rd at the Regular Council session at City Hall.

He also provided a quick review of his plans to host more public community engagement sessions in the future, hopefully to start in April.

You can access the City Council Review page for March 9th here, where a number of items regarding the council session, including links to media coverage of it can be found.

As always, our Council Timeline is only a reflection of our observations from the Council session of the night.  Be sure to consult with the official minutes from the City, when posted to the website for further review.

Minutes of the Regular Council Session from March 9, 2015

Council next meets in Regular session on March 23, 2015, that session takes place back at the Council Chambers at City Hall

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