Thursday, October 6, 2016

BC Minister Fassbender is ready to look over Municipal spending

BC Cabinet Minister Peter Fassbender
meeting with Port Edward officials at
the 2016 UBCM convention
One of the more intriguing themes to come out of last weeks UBCM meetings in Victoria was the clear telegram that the Provincial Minister for Community, Sport and Cultural Development delivered to the municipalities, that the province has been watching and when it comes to municipal spending, the time may soon be coming to rein it all in.

Earlier this week, we made mention of the comments from Mr. Fassbender that loomed over that week of networking and convention merriment of late September, with the Cabinet Minister taking on the role of the BC Liberal's Death Star, approaching municipal leaders fast and apparently making ready for battle.

An item this week from Black Press columnist Tom Fletcher expands on some of that theme and traces some of the history of Mr. Fassbender as Premier Clark's Go to guy on tough issues.

His time as Minister of Education finding him locking horns with the BCTF over the last two years, in the end delivering a five year contract settlement and labour peace on the education front.

Minister Peter Fassbender and his
focus on municipal spending may 
soon be taking on the aura of an approaching
Death Star for BC municipalities
(photo from Star Wars wika)
From that lengthy engagement, Fassbender was shifted by Premier Clark to watch over the Municipal files, perhaps with an eye towards delivering the same results when it comes to municipal spending.

What the province considers unfettered spending at the municipal level has made for a topic that the province has frequently suggested needs to be looked at by local communities, with pay increases and increases in municipal work force levels of key alarm for the Province.

If those are areas where Fassbender truly has plans to explore and deliver a little financial tough love on the municipalities, then he probably will be making some travel arrangements to Prince Rupert to make the North Coast one of his first reviews when it comes to how municipalities spend.

Perhaps curious as to why a city with as many challenges as Prince Rupert has faced over the last couple of years, and still faces for the foreseeable future; has decided that delivering both municipal wage increases and making for a surge in civic employment were the first of the priorities after the 2014 municipal election.

Prince Rupert City Council
(photo from 2015 Annual Report)

For those that might have missed the developments, over the last two years, City Council has voted a significant pay increase for the Mayor, who while now holding the status of a full time executive is also being compensated at levels similar to much larger communities.

Along with that pay increase, a number of senior Civic officials have also received impressive boosts in salaries during that period, while there has also been a slight uptick in the numbers from the unionized workforce, as some members move towards the top ends of the civic pay scale.

The review of the City's payroll distribution was provided in late June as part of the annual SOFI disclosure.

While they've been topping up the pay envelopes around City Hall, the City has also been on a hiring blitz through 2015 and 2016 that has created a number of positions previously unknown for Prince Rupert, some of which perhaps might have waited for a more secure economic future for the community before being created.

To be fair, Council has also provided for some supports for a city hall staff that had been stretched thin in a number of department areas over the years. And it's safe to say, that some of those positions needed to be filled after years of holding the line by the previous civic administrations.

However a number of other positions offered over the last two years have been created and filled pretty well under the radar, with little discussion at an open council session at to whether all of them were really needed. Particularly as the city continues to try to come to grips with a still stagnant population, few new industrial projects in place and little in the way of revenue streams available to the city.

When one looks over the Fassbender check list of recent months, the City of Prince Rupert certainly does seem to fill a number of his check boxes that require further review and some provincial advice.

And while it's rather doubtful that the Minister will be picking fights with municipalities before the May election, should the BC Liberals find themselves returned to office with another four year mandate, you may see the appearance of sandbags and watch towers at City Hall.

Preparations as Civic politicians keep watch to the skies for a government plane carrying Minister Fassbender, a copy of You Can Negotiate Anything in one hand and pencils that are ready to be sharpened in the other.

More notes on Provincial issues can be found on our Legislature page, while background on developments at City Hall can be reviewed from our Council archive.

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