Friday, April 10, 2015

City Council Timeline, Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Those tuning in at 7 PM on Tuesday evening, the usual time for a public session of Prince Rupert City Council would have been quite disappointed at missing their favourite cable ten production on the night.

As things turned out, the notice posted to the City's website outlining the shift in time of the Council session was correct, with the City's Mayor and six councillors gathering at 5 PM on Tuesday to conduct the business of the city.

No explanation was offered for the required shift of time and since the notice on the website didn't exactly highlight the departure from the usual time, it's probably safe to say that the live broadcast of the supper hour did not top the ratings and topple much of the dinner time schedule.

As for the work at hand, Council members heard a presentation from the Prince Rupert Homecoming Committee who were not pleased at the increase in rent for the Civic Centre facility for the May event.

The City's Chief Financial Officer provided one final snapshot review of the budget process, making note of a slight increase of the mill rate to address the issue of a decline in the assessment valuations from BC assessment.

Council also discussed an amendment from Councillor Blair Mirau on the prospect of seeking further cost savings and thinking of new ways to attract revenue to the city's financial accounts.

Discussions on Community Enhancement Grants, Housing issues and a short review of the Mayor's trip to Houston Texas for a meeting with Exxon officials, also took place during the hour long session.

For some background on the evening's scheduled items of note see the Regular Council Agenda for April 7 here.

Council also hosted a Special Closed session on Tuesday evening.

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 April 7, 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 April 7, 2015

( 0:00- 1:00 ) The Mayor started off the evening, by reviewing and having Council adopt past minutes and agendas.

( 1:00--10:00 )  Presentation from Mrs. Barb Gruber and Ms. Sandra Greer on Homecoming 2015 and a request for a reduction in rent for the use of the Civic Centre -- The members of the Homecoming Committee outlined a concern over the current rental amount for use of the Civic Centre for their event from May14-18. Mrs. Gruber noted that they are hoping to attract between 1000 and 2000 people to the event and are hoping to keep their costs as low as possible.

She made note that if they are successful in attracting 2000 people, the high end of rental would be 9000 dollars and observed how that amount was more than double what it was five years ago, should they only require one room the rent would be around 5,000 dollars.

She outlined that the current request for rent, particularly if they should attract a large crowd is far beyond what they had budgeted for.

She also observed that the amount also includes the need to pay for staff to set up for the event.  She asked on behalf of the committee for some assistance from the City for a reduction in the rent, noting that they were late for an application for any grants for this year.

Councillor Thorkelson inquired as to why if it was just for the Saturday night, why they required the Friday evening as well, she was advised that the Friday evening would be related to set up and decorating for the Saturday event.

Councillor Cunningham asked how many people had already registered for the event, he was advised that to this point the Committee is hoping for at least 1000 visitors for the Homecoming activities.  Mrs. Gruber advised that should the turnout for Homecoming be larger than anticipated there would be the possibility of returning money to the City should they provide with the assistance requested.

The Mayor advised that Council would put the issue to staff and that they would have a look at what they can do related to the issue for the next Council session of April 20th.

( 10:00--51:00 )  A Presentation the Chief Financial Officer outlining a slight change in the mill rate request for the 2015 Budget process ---  Mrs. Bomben reviewed some of the previous discussion on the budget process to this point. She then noted that the final property assessments had been released by BC Assessments and that a downward change of assessment was to total of four million dollars.

The impact of that downward revision is that City staff is now recommending an increase to the mill rate to two percent.  That will result in an average increase of taxes to 38 dollars, as opposed to the previously anticipated increase of 37 dollars prior to the revised assessment review.

She then requested that the City move forward the resolution to approve the recommended rate increase.

Ms. Bomben also offered up a solution for the Homecoming Committees request by pointing towards the contributions to community partners section of the budget, that there is a section for late applicants which the City council could put the 8400 dollars that is listed there towards the Homecoming request if they desired.

As part of the discussion on the theme of the Budget resolution, Councillor Mirau outlined his thoughts for the need for Council to explore other options beyond just an increase to the taxation levels.

He looked to add an amendment to the Budget resolution, seeking to direct staff to generate a Revenue Growth Strategy for the city of Prince Rupert.

He would like to see the report back by the first meeting after May for review.

He observed as to a number of ideas that could be considered such as Corporate Naming Rights for public facilities, or the sale of land that the city currently owns, areas that he believes the city could generate revenue from.

Councillor Randhawa seconded the motion and offered up his support for the initiative stating that the City should always be looking for savings at every opportunity.

Councillor Cunningham as well was in favour of anything that is going to reduce the tax load on the residents of the community. Stating that if the city could find anyway to alleviate the tax burden on the residents and business community he was in favour of it, noting that's why they've been elected and that seeking new ways to reduce the burden is something that Council has to do.

Councillor Niesh echoed some of Councillor Cunningham's notes explaining how he ran for Council because he was weary of the ever increasing taxation on residents, he also observed that there is a need to find other strategies to deliver revenue to the city.

Councillor Thorkelson spoke to the topic as a motherhood issue, suggesting that no one is against reducing the impact of taxation, however she had concerns over the workload on the city staff related to the project.

Suggesting that looking for savings along the lines of 5,000 dollars or so isn't a wise way to spend staff's time, as well she offered doubts as to whether selling land would deliver much revenue to the city unless there was housing on it to tax. She also noted that a lot of the land in the city is owned by the province or the Federal Government and that the city didn't have a lot of land to sell.

She doesn't want City staff to be tasked to smaller issues when large items such as Watson Island and LNG issues continue to be on list of things to address. She stated that she wouldn't vote against the motion, but urged Council to keep its eye on the larger issues at hand.

Councillor Kinney also spoke in favour of Councillor Mirau's motion, outlining the ongoing increases to residents when it comes to a range of costs that they face.

Councillor Cunningham commended staff for their current work on the large issues but reminded Council that they need to keep an eye on the day to day issues of running the city.

There was further discussion as to the timeline required for the review of the Revenue Growth Strategy, with Councillor Cunningham urging Council not to hold up the budget process until that report.

Councillor Mirau clarified his request, stating that it would not hold up this years budget process but would be delivered in May, after Council had approved this years budget request.

Councillor Thorkelson requested some clarification on the mill rate request related to the downward assessment of this year, as well as to the nature of the motions under consideration.

The Mayor called on the Corporate Administrator and Chief Financial Officer to offer up explanations on the process and how to approach it.

Councillor Thorkelson then noted that while she understood how costs are increasing for families, there is a need for budgeting for all to take into account increases on such things as hydro rates and city taxes.  Observing that the City can't cut any more unless they decide to radically change the nature of the city and that the 1 or 2 per cent increase is really just a cost of living increase, something that the city is not immune to.

She suggested that such an increase is something that should be considered by residents as a matter of course.

She also made mention of the number of ways that residents can use to reduce the impact of taxes on their household budget, she and Councillor Cunningham suggested that the City include a mailer that they have used in the past to outline those options for residents.

To bring the discussion on the issue to an the end, Council voted to move the 2015 Budget Resolution ahead.  Putting the Revenue Growth Strategy to the post budget period, with an eye to future budget processes in the years to come.

Councillor Randhawa cast the only dissenting vote on the Budget resolution, preferring that Council consider Councillor Mirau's plan before adopting the Budget for this year.

With the vote complete, Councillor Thorkelson suggested that there could be an amendment made to the Budget resolution should the city find new revenue streams to put towards this years budget.  Ms. Bomben outlined that Council could then change the recommendation or the bylaw itself.

Councillor Niesh noted that as most councillors are new to the scene, the real work towards seeking out such items as Councillor Mirau's recommendations would come in the years to come.

Council then voted on the Recommendation  Community Enhancement Grant request.

Prior to that vote, Councillor Mirau inquired as to the nature of the Hotel Tax and what impact that it has on the budget preparations for Tourism Prince Rupert provisions of the Grant request, he was advised that the City has to turn over all of the hotel tax to Tourism Prince Rupert.

Councillor Cunningham noted that Tourism Prince Rupert recently dropped the amount they were requesting, Mrs. Bomben outlined the nature of those changes.

Councillor Cunningham then turned to the late applicants aspect of the Grant process, wondering if the City could allocate the 8,408 dollars to the Homecoming Committee.  Councillor Thorkelson spoke to that issue, noting that there would be no money left for other applicants for the rest of the year.

The Mayor also made note of that situation, suggesting that the Council needed more flexibility on the issue, after which Councillor Cunningham withdrew his motion, with discussion on any funding provisions to take place later.

Councillor Kinney stressed that the City should offer some assistance to the Homecoming Committee, the Mayor advised that they would bring that issue forward at a later date.  Councillor Thorkelson asked that staff prepare a report for council on the Homecoming issue for the next meeting.

( 51:00--57:30 ) Reports and Recommendations from Council

Councillor Thorkelson asked the mayor to provide an update on the status of the work of the two housing committees. Making note that she had just received word that a number of residents of the Neptune Inn had been given notice to vacate that location, a situation which will find close to twenty residents needing to find alternate accommodation.  She pointed out that many of those residents were located there after the Elizabeth Apartments burned down, and noted that it adds to the urgency of the issue for the community.

The Mayor outlined how the City had partnered with the Prince Rupert Aboriginal Services Soceity and last week held an information session with a number of service organizations in the community to discuss the needs of the community, coming up with a master list of issues to review.

From there the group will launch a city wide campaign to survey the needs on housing in the community, to find out what the numbers on the ground are to better understand the issue. Plugging that data into their Go Plan and taking it to the provincial government, to show the housing needs in the community.

Providing a factual count of what is required in the community, the launch date for the collecting of that data will hopefully be sometime in May.  He also noted that the Prince Rupert Aboriginal Services Society can access  funding through a government project to do a pilot project in the community related to housing, something that the City's housing committee is helping with.

He noted that once they get the process underway there will be a call out in the community for volunteers to help achieve some of the goals of the project.

Mayor Brain also provided a short overview of his recent trip to Houston, Texas. A journey that he and City Manager Robert Long used to learn more about Exxon Mobil's LNG plans for development and a session where they gained some new perspective on what Exxon Mobil is considering for the Lot 444 project.

There is an anticipated public announcement on the design of the site to come in the next few months, he observed that it was a very good meeting and that he is looking forward to productive conversations with the Exxon team to come in the future.

The Mayor then adjourned the Regulars session.

You can access the City Council Review page for April 7th 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 April 7 (not available as of yet)

Council next meets in Regular session on April 20, that session takes place back at the Council Chambers at City Hall

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