Saturday, December 31, 2016

As 2016 ends ... A Council Midterm: Many, many plans, results still to be determined

As we prepare to bid 2016 adieu, we mark the completion of the two year anniversary for this current City Council, a collective which first took office on December 2, 2014.

That inaugural session made for a night where Mayor Lee Brain charted the new journey ahead for the community, delivering  his first address as the City's top elected official.

Since those early days City Council has embarked on a long running course of many, many meetings and has delivered any number of plans to share with the community for review. So with the midway point of their four year mandate now here, we'll look back a bit at some of the themes that caught our attention this year and how those plans are moving along.

2015 made for a flurry of planning as the ambitious group of elected officials provided us with the blue prints of sorts from the Mayor and Council The first year  of office one which saw the Hays 2.0 Vision plan, Planning for Major Projects program, an LNG Go Plan, ReBuild and ReDesign Rupert initiatives to name a few all begin to take shape.

And if 2015 was the year for the planning, 2016 would be the year of community engagement for some of those ideas, with the City launching a string of high profile public sessions to explore some of the long term vision planning that the Mayor and Council began in their first year.

January saw the City participate in the McKay Street Placemaking Conference held at Northwest Community college, offering the first opportunity to move forward with plans from Transition Prince Rupert that would transform the current scrub land of the ball field at McKay and Kootenay into an urban oasis of sorts.

And while details are still few as to how the City plans to move towards that goal, the project seemingly continues to move forward, with Transition Prince Rupert recently announcing it's plans to update the public in late January of 2017.

The Placemaking Conference also provided a venue for the Mayor to outline another initiative for residents to follow, that of the 2030 Sustainable City Select Committee, which was introduced to City Council in late January.

The ongoing work related to a Redesign of Prince Rupert also picked up the pace as the Community Development Institute out of UNBC continued to host community engagement sessions and Open Houses to move that initiative forward.

ReDesign Rupert launched with much more engagement to come
ReDesign Rupert Mapping project continues at PRMS
Update highlights work of Community Development Institute and future plans
Pancakes, Door Prizes and a look to the future for Redesign Rupert Recharge
CDI Housing Study highlights trends for Prince Rupert housing stock, population and pace of development
Community Development Institute outlines findings from Rupert Recharge engagement

In addition to the work of the Community Development Institute, the City, with grant money in hand, also hired on the services of an Ontario based urban planning firm called the Planning Partnership.

They came to town in November and hosted some public information sessions at Northwest Community College, gathering the input of the public and creating a glimpse of a new look for Prince Rupert in the future.

City sets dates for November Planning Sessions
Four days of consultations on civic land use start today in Prince Rupert
Four days of planning sessions deliver many concepts for the Prince Rupert of tomorrow

Community engagement of course also means that the public sometimes pushes back on some of the ideas that the City might put forward.

With Council getting a glimpse of some of that power of the people in early January, a period of time when the public came to the defence of the city's library, forcing City Council to rethink it's funding concepts for the year.

Council to reduce funding for Library and redistribute some of the funds to the Museum and Lester Centre
Library cuts the main focus for public comment portion of Monday's Council Session
Questions on funding issues point to need for easier access to Civic information
Prince Rupert teachers outline their concerns on topic of Library cuts
Few questions from the public for Council at Budget Consultation Forum
Full Library funding restored for year ahead
Renewed appreciation for Prince Rupert Library after recent issues
Final numbers for 2015 show $1.3 million in Community Grants distributed by the City

The lessons of early January seemingly delivered a new approach when it comes to funding for the larger community groups that apply each year, with City Council revealing its plans for a new process when it comes to large scale grant recipients in December.

Though while Council is moving forward with the new initiative, full details on how it will all work have yet to be provided to the public as the year comes to an end.

Councillor Thorkelson calls for more equitable process when it comes to Community Grants and Property Tax Enhancement Grants
Councillor Cunningham raises questions on City's Community Enhancement Grant issues
City makes progress on proposed Funding Agreements with community groups

While 2016 provided for much in the way of information on the forward thinking areas of civic development, City Council continued to follow some of the methods of civic governance of years past.

For all the talk of the 2014 election campaign for the need for more transparency on issues from City Hall, the era of the closed meeting still seems to make for a popular default position down on Third Avenue.

City Council hosted twenty regularly scheduled public council sessions and one Public Forum on the budget in 2016, however, they almost matched the open sessions with closed ones through the year, providing notice that they had sat in a closed door session on eighteen different occasions over the last year.

And while the City has introduced a range of new options for communicating their message to the public. Some in the community are confusing the City's increased use of Facebook posts, twitter tweets and short website updates to be part of a larger transparency program.

However, a review of those frequent social media notes, would show that for the most part those methods appear to have mainly been put to use more to provide for the City's message making on the themes they wish to move forward, as opposed to disclosing any details on potentially controversial topics.

In some instances this council has actually gone backwards from previous ones when it comes to keeping the public up to date on key issues of concern. Less inclined at times  it would seem to share notes on a range of other areas that residents no doubt would like to be more informed about.

Over the last year, there has been little in the way of updates for the city's residents on such areas of note as the long running court battles of Watson Island, or the use of the city's Legacy Fund by Council

Likewise, developments from the City's airport and transportation system, or how the City owned communication company CityWest is faring and if they will ever return to the days of significant dividend deliveries, seldom seem to make for much conversation during the public sessions.

As well, where Council once upon a time would receive a regular public presentation offering an update from the City's Fire Department and RCMP detachment on issues of note, and despite the financial reality that both of those services account for a large share of the yearly budget requirements for the City, 2016 has passed by without any items of interest brought up for discussion during those regular public council sessions.

Beyond the information on issues of policing or fire protection, an item that remains on the City's "to do list" is the still unresolved issue of a new detachment for the RCMP, or a Fire Station for the Fire Department.

Neither of those large scale investments made for much discussion in public session in 2016.

And while there are some indications in the community that in the case of the RCMP detachment there is some forward motion in play for 2017 on the issue,  over the last year City Council remained mute when it came to any form of update on how that situation is evolving for its residents.

Infrastructure did make for a focus for much of 2016 for City Council however, with plans announced related to the Woodworth Dam and the issues related to the city's water supply system frequently on the mind of council members.

Along with the video presentation on the current concern, the city also offered up the prospect of more grant applications to come in 2017 for additional elements of the city's water supply.

UBCM convention comes to an end as municipal leaders wrap up week of networking
Mayor Brain takes issue with Northern View item on infrastructure funding
City's Water Grant proposal applications are in the pipeline
Federal infrastructure funding proves elusive for Prince Rupert
City Council poised to approve utility fee increases; looks to find way on asset management planning

Road work also became a feature of City council's attention through the year, with the city as part of their 2017 Capital Works preview of late December  announcing that it will be paving Third Avenue from Five Corners to Cow Bay a plan they intend to put in place around the province's paving program for McBride Street, Second Avenue and Park Avenue.

Council also has plans to address concerns related to the Second Avenue Bridge and to provide for some additional work at the Civic Centre.

The need to address the infrastructure problems however, became pretty clear as the year progressed with a number of water line issues providing the evidence that after 100 years, the city's aging infrastructure elements are clearly well beyond their best before dates.

One job complete, it's on to the next for city's infrastructure issues
City to launch remediation project for retaining wall at 6th and Ambrose
Alfred Street residents to face water disruptions starting Monday
Delays ahead for completion of Frederick Street water lines

To address some of those concerns, City Council voted in late December to create a number of funds as part of their increase to utility fees in 2017, of the five percent increase destined to start on January 1st, two percent will be put into separate funds dedicated to asset replacement in the years ahead.

Earlier in the year, City Council did highlight their decision to hold the line on property taxes for the year, though with property assessments increasing for many residents in 2016 the city still probably fared pretty well when it came to collecting revenue on tax payment day in July.

City charts financial course for 2016 adopting Financial Plan and Property Tax Bylaws
The Taxman cometh! City Property Tax notices arriving  in this week's mail delivery

2016 also provided the city's residents with the first glimpse of some of he impact of some of the measures adopted in 2015, with the City's Financial disclosure of the Spring outlining the financial totals related to the move towards full time status for Mayor Lee Brain, along with a number of salary increases that were put in place for a range of civic officials this year.

Salary and Expenses on the rise from Prince Rupert's 2015 SOFI Review
Regional District paydays put Mayor Lee Brain into the $100,000 club for 2015

City hall also continued to be a good place to find a job in 2016, as the City continued on with its aggressive hiring plans that started in 2015, filling previously dormant positions and creating new ones as the year progressed.

Housing has been a key theme for City Council since this contingent took office in late 2014, whether it be the need to address the affordable housing issues of the community, or the need to build up the housing stock, Council found housing discussions taking up more and more of their time over the last year.

While there was much discussion and more than a fair amount of differing opinions on the theme of housing, Council did manage to approve a number of large scale housing proposals in 2015 and 2016.

Though it should also be noted that as the year comes to its end, there has been little, to no work done by developers that suggests that any of the proposed housing developments are any closer at hand as to when they were approved.

Drake Crescent Housing development gains Council approval
City set to move on land issue off Graham after AAP results released
City Council adds Seniors Housing requirements and development timeline covenants to Graham Avenue land sale
Graham Avenue land sale gains a bit of out of town attention

The full overview of housing discussions through the year can be found here.

One area where Council failed to find common ground with developers involved the Kanata School lands, where Council's vision for the area and that of the developers failed to come to any kind of a resolution, something which left School District 52 in a form of realty limbo, as they continued to try to sell off their land assets to return the revenue gained to School District use.

Zoning delay on Kanata lands has School District seeking answers from City of Prince Rupert
Kanata School land question back in front of Council tonight
Kanata School land zoning question is deferred once again, set to return for March 21st session

The land issues related to the Kanata area were not the only irritant between the City and the School District in the last year.

As the prospect of a long delayed School District by-election, required to replace the long since resigned trustee Judy Carlick-Pearson would still appear to be unresolved as we head into 2017.

When it comes to the ongoing theme of affordable housing in Prince Rupert, the local situation remained focused on discussions for most of the year.

Though some welcome news came from the Provincial government in November, with an announcement that affordable housing units are on the way.

The Mayor followed up on that provincial development with his own update on housing issues in December, offering up some notes on his priority list and suggesting that progress will be found in in the year ahead.

The start to 2017 will resemble much of how 2016 came to an end, with the larger economic picture for the community still to be determined. And while the promise of further Port development continues to fuel the city's economic engine, the potential of LNG development still remains very much of an unknown factor at this time.

City Council found itself in the spotlight of the LNG debate late in the year as Council members discussed a number of themes related to the Pacific NorthWest LNG proposal.

Making for a number of sessions which offered up a glimpse into what appears to be a bit of a split on council on how to approach the giant LNG company and also brought out a number of the city's residents to share their opinions on how the City should handle those files.

City of Prince Rupert CEAA submission on Pacific NorthWest LNG now available on agency website
Metlakatla and Prince Rupert offer up reaction to Pacific NorthWest LNG announcement
Lelu Island project to be a theme for tonight's Council Session
City's LNG resolution discussion deferred until November
Council sends it's Pacific NorthWest LNG motion back to committee for review and rewording
City Council''s "LNG conditions Wars' ... The Business Empire Strikes Back!

As well, while they have not discussed the proposed Digby Island Aurora LNG project much in public session, some notes from a recent Regional District meeting would seem to suggest that it too, may soon find its way onto a City Council agenda in the New Year.

Federal funding provided for Indigenous participation in Aurora LNG CEAA process

For the most part the City has no control over any of those major developments, many of which are outside of the city's boundaries and most of which are at the mercy of international factors and varying financial winds. However, the fate of many of them could have a significant impact on the range of plans that the Mayor and  City Council have put forward through the last two years.

There's no guarantee that any of the proposed LNG developments will go ahead and while the Port's long range plans for expansion do offer the promise of an expanded industrial base, until there are shovels in the ground and people at work, much of the future still seems unknown.

The bottom line is however, that without that influx of economic development and with it a growing  population, many of the vision plans, housing studies and other documents predicting the future over the last few years, will at some point be left on a shelf.

In their place will be the balance sheets of today and the more mundane tasks of running a city which may have even further reduced financial options, along with a weary residential base that continues to pay the bills.

They make for a group who one suspects at some point may ask of their elected officials that they sharpen some pencils and review their ever growing plans and priorities, so that some of the financial burden currently in place will be lifted from their shoulders.

Should some of the current economic prospects not come to pass in 2017, the final year of this council's mandate leading up to election day in November of 2018 will be one of trying to address a growing list of issues.

Scrambling to find ways to finance all of their goals and ambitions of the years previous, while keeping an eye on the political weather vane and how the public may be viewing the way that Council has addressed the issues.

To gain a perspective on the year just past for City Council, a helpful starting place might be our notes on the Council Discussions of 2016.

You can also explore our archive pages that highlight areas of note from a range of Civic Departments and Issues over the course of the last year.


  1. The most results any council has delivered in over 15 years, great job mayor and council!

  2. Well, we're sure that the Mayor and Council will be heartened by your comments of support, though we imagine some in the community may question the timeline you have suggested for progress. There were some achievements by previous councils over fifteen years we suspect.


  3. Congratualation Mayor, Council and Staff on a great year of accomplishments!

    The town is moving forward and it's awesome to see!