Friday, April 10, 2015

Councillor Mirau's motion spurs on discussion on need for new ideas on revenue generation for the city

Naming rights for municipal buildings
was one of a few ideas noted on
Tuesday evening at Council
Looking for ways to find new revenues for the city made for an interesting exchange of views at City Council on Tuesday evening, as an amendment from Councillor Blair Mirau sparked a wide ranging discussion among council members.

Councillor Mirau introduced the motion during the discussion phase of the City's budget resolution, opening up the conversation by observing that it is important to have a discussion that is larger than simply raising taxes or cutting services, noting that there are a number of ways for communities to raise new revenues other than through taxes.

With that he introduced a plan to generate a Revenue Growth Strategy, asking that council put a bit of urgency into his proposal and to direct city staff to generate such a strategy by reviewing potential options for increasing revenue streams.

"We all know that there's a lot of different ways to raise revenues for the municipality outside of raising taxes and I would like to add a sense of urgency at this table and to add an amendment to direct staff to direct a Revenue Growth Strategy for the municipality and report back" -- Councillor Blair Mirau introducing a plan to seek out new revenue streams for the City of Prince Rupert

He pointed to some items from other communities, using Duncan as one example, where they have sold the naming rights to public facilities. He also noted that there are a number of vacant lots that the city has, suggesting that an inventory be collected as to which lots are on the city's books and then to sell them in a tax sale. Something he believes could reduce some of the pressure on the housing market in the community.

He commented that he knew that no one around the table had an appetite to raise taxes and offered up his proposal as one way to avoid having to continue with that process.

Councillor Randhawa spoke in favour of the amendment to the budget discussion and by the end of that discussion, he would be the only Council member to vote against the budget resolution to raise the mill rate, instead suggesting council should wait until Councillor Mirau's idea was explored further.

Council had a vigorous discussion Tuesday
on the prospect of a Revenue Growth
Strategy for the City
The rest of Council for the most part agreed that they did not want to raise taxes, with Councillors Cunningham and Niesh providing an expanded review as to why they had sought a seat on council and that reducing the burden on taxpayers was high on that list.

Councillor Thorkelson as well, spoke to the topic, stating that no one could be opposed to finding other ways of finding money other than raising taxes.

She observed that in her opinion there would not be much in the way of collecting much money on the sale of land, stating that she wasn't in favour of selling land without any kind of plan in place. Noting as well that most of the land in the city is owned by the provincial or Federal government.

However, she was by far the most forceful speaker when it came to hesitancy over the prospect of tasking staff with the job of seeking out smaller amounts of savings. She pointed to such issues as Watson Island, the LNG development issues in the community including the city's work with Exxon and moving forward with the Go Plan as items that City staff would rather have city staff  tasked for

"What I don't want to do though is to waste staff's time looking for alternatives when they should be looking after the bigger projects, that will be the bigger bang for our buck" -- Councillor Joy Thorkelson

And while she advised that she would not be voting against the amendment, calling the quest a motherhood issue, though cautioning council not to sweat the little stuff and ignore the bigger issues.

She did note that council did not have a very large staff and if there is low hanging fruit, Council should capture it, but that Council should be looking at those harder to get, long term prospects that are going to pay big dividends for this community,  areas that she believes Council should be directing staff to work on.

She observed that such projects as the Petronas LNG development will provide challenges for the city, particularly creating a headache when it comes to housing, advising her Council partners that those are the kinds of issues she believes that Council should be having staff focus on.

Councillors Cunningham and Kinney noted that the burden on taxpayers grows each year through hydro and other utility increases and Council should look for ways to reduce its impact on local residents.

"This is only my second budget but as I recall, last budget we put the taxes up 19 dollars and ninety five cents. That's half of  what we're proposing this year and when you add  them both together, along with the five percent increase that seems to keep coming on utilities and everything, any option to hold the line or lowers the taxes I'm worth looking at" -- Councillor Cunningham speaking to the issue of tax increases

Councillor Cunningham also offered up some thoughts on the nature of the Big projects, reminding council members that those themes have been heard in the past, noting the frequent talk of the mill starting up again, or the Potash plant is going to be built, only to find disappointment as those anticipated events never took place.

Cunningham added that if the large projects currently under discussion take place it would be great, it would be the thing of a lottery win, but at this moment the city has to take care of the little things and look wherever they can to find additional revenues for the city.

The theme of increased costs to homeowners was a sentiment that Councillor Thorkelson had some sympathy for, however she pointed out that the city too has increased costs such as hydro and other requirements.  Adding that the current tax increase under discussion is more along the lines of a cost of living issue, offering up the advice that the city's residents should budget accordingly for such things.

By the end of the discussion, the process of review of the Revenue Growth Strategy would come after this years budget process is complete.  With council hesitant to slow down the budget process for this year,  they instead put the Revenue Growth Strategy initiative as something to be examined following the end of budget deliberations.

Councillor Mirau advised that indeed was the spirit of his initiative, with the discussion and review of it to take place after the budget process for this year had come to an end.

You can review the vigorous discussion related to Mr. Mirau's suggestion from the City's Video Archive, it takes place at the fifteen minute mark and continues through most of the Budget discussion.

Councillor Mirau further explained his proposal for a Revenue Growth Strategy on the CBC Radio program Daybreak North, appearing on the show on Thursday morning, you can listen to his vision for the project here.

For more items related to City Council discussions see our archive page here.

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