Thursday, February 28, 2019

City Council Timeline: Monday, February 25, 2019

The launch of the 2019 Budget process, findings of a Mayor's Committee on council salaries and a number of other presentations made for busy Monday evening for members of Prince Rupert City Council.

The night's work which lasted towards one hour and forty minutes also explored the latest notes from the Museum Of Northern British Columbia, as well as concerns from a local environmental advocated who outlined her findings on anchorage incidents in Prince Rupert harbour.

A pair of land issues, borrowing approval and more on the city's approach towards finding grants for renewal of the CN Heritage building also filled out the night's work.

Some background on the work of Council on the evening and the various Regular Meeting and Committee of the Whole Agenda elements for the February 25th Council session can be reviewed here.

Council also met in a closed session earlier in the evening, hosting a 5 PM meeting

Further information from our overview and 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 Monday, February 25, 2018

Mayor Lee Brain -- Present 
Councillor Nick Adey --  Present 
Councillor Barry Cunningham-- Present 
Councillor Blair Mirau -- Present 
Councillor Reid Skelton-Morven --  Present 
Councillor Wade Niesh -- Present
Councillor Gurvinder Randhawa--  Present 

Video Archive for February 25, 2019


Committee of the Whole

(0:00 -- 1:00 )  Adoption of Agenda -- The Mayor called the Committee of the Whole meeting to order, outlining the elements of the Committee session.

( 1:00 -- 20:00 ) Presentation from Susan Marsden of the Museum of Northern British Columbia -- Ms. Marsden and her delegation provided an update on some of the past activities at the museum, as well as some of the future plans for the facility. 

Among the highlights a look back at the Clovis the Caribou hunter exhibit, as well as their involvement with the Children's Festival. She also made note of the success of the cruise ship season and school programs that make for hectic months at the Museum through the spring, summer and fall months. She also explained the nature of the programs that the museum offers as part of the Cruise industry's engagement with the community. 

Ms. Marsden observed that when it comes to visitors to the museum it's very much a global cross section with visitors coming from across Canada and the United States, as well as from over thirty eight countries around the world. The largest amount came from Australia, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. 

The presentation wrapped up with a look at some of the community oriented events that the museum hosts through the year, with a the museum putting a focus on the youth of the community. 

She also outlined some of the plans for the year ahead and what exhibits are planned as well as a review of the funding that the museum receives from the city and how it has been put to use, as well as some of the fund raising efforts that they have in place, along with some of the challenges that the museum still faces when it comes to funding requirements.

Towards the funding issue, she praised the new three year funding arrangement and requested that Council consider increasing the amount that the city provides to the museum.

As for comments from Council, Councillor Mirau spoke to the new funding arrangement and noted how it was heartening to him that the new arrangement and three year contract provision has been well received. Adding how it provides for more stable funding and has been a win-win for the city allowing it to plan the financial program out over a wider period of time.

Mr. Mirau also asked for some clarification on  the current funding and if they have begun their process for the next contract.

Councillor Cunningham spoke to the importance of the museum to the community and praised the selection of the gift shop.

Councillor Randhawa inquired about the volume of visitors and how it has compared to past years.

Councillor Skelton Morven also praised the work of the museum.

( 20:00 -- 34:00 ) Presentation from Luanne Roth of the T Buck Suzuki Society -- Ms. Roth provided some background information for Council on her organizations findings when it comes to the nature of Anchorage Safety in the Skeena Estuary.  

As the main focus of her presentation, she highlighted a report that her organization has compiled to outline what she calls the growing number of incidents that are taking place currently and observed as to her concerns over the potential for more with two new developments, the Wolverine and Vopak Terminals under consideration for the region.

She recounted some of the areas of concern and what dangers that they may pose along the length of Prince Rupert harbour. She reviewed an account of one past incident and what the findings were from it, as well as concerns over safety margins that should be considered from some of the more worrisome areas.

The environmental advocate noted that there have been past studies done on the anchorage situation in Prince Rupert harbour and expressed her concern over the number of increased anchorage issues that have been noted in Prince Rupert, something that she described as not normal; further noting that the Port is receiving larger vessels than in the past which she believes could be the cause for such incidents.

As part of her presentation she asked that the city council endorse a letter that her organization has composed, or to write their own to ask for further investigation by the Minister of Transport.

She also called for a Marine Risk Assessment to be made related to the proposed Vopak Terminal project destined for Ridley Island,  noting that currently there is an Environmental Assessment underway for that project and called for the Risk Assessment to be included. She further observed that there may be a need for some pressure to be required to make that part of the assessment process.

As her presentation time came to a close, Council members offered thanks and made note of some of her points previous.

Councillor Adey thanked her for the presentation on the theme and also spoke to some other issues that the city may wish to pursue, including air quality concerns related to cruise ships that call on the community, He asked the council if there was any interest in pursuing an impact assessment on a number of levels through Transport Canada.

The Mayor observed as to how the topic of the anchorage issue had come up at Regional District in the previous week and how it will require a dialogue with those responsible for managing those elements, with the Board reaching out to the Port for answers. 

That was an approach he suggested that Council may want to follow as well, seeking to hear their comments on the issue before taking any further action.

Councillor Cunningham also offered up some thoughts on how the two proposed developments are on his radar and the issue is one that needs to be explored carefully.

Ms. Roth followed up with an observation as to how there is a need for an independent look required for the issue, noting how there is a different mandate for the public and the importance of the estuary; as opposed to the nature of the Port's mandate.

Before closing off the discussion, Mr. Brain noted that Ms. Roth had been invited to speak to the Regional District Board to review her findings.

( 34:00 -- 38:00  Public comment period of Committee of Whole -- Two members of the public spoke to the Council, with Mr. Larry Golden inquiring about what section of the old Sears building the proposed cannabis store is looking to locate in, the Mayor noted that it would be a smaller section of the structure and not the larger warehouse store that had operated at Five Corners.

Another resident spoke to the topic of the relationship between the Port and the City and if the Port ever makes an appearance at Council and allowed for community comment at those sessions. The mayor observed that they have made presentations to Council but that they can't be requested to attend to face questions. He did observe that they do offer their own community engagement opportunities at times.

Mr. Brain also noted that the Regional District had requested that the Port make a presentation to that body and that District could inform the public when that presentation may take place.

With No other residents approaching to share comments, the Mayor then returned the Council to the Regular Council Session.


Regular Council Session

( 38:00 -- 39:30 )   Regular City Council Session for November February 25, 2019  --  Adoption of Agenda,  the Mayor called the Regular Council Session to order, with Council adopting the agenda and past minutes of previous minutes, with one addition of an opportunity for public comment on a variance application.  

39:30 -- 38:30  )   Application for Development Variance Permit for a property on First Avenue West   -- No members of the public rose to speak to the variance request.

38:30 -- 52:00  )   Report from the Select Standing Committee on Council Remuneration  -- Two members of the committee provided their findings on a range of themes related to salaries and per diems for Council members.

Five key points were noted, among some of the findings, the Mayor's position should be returned to a Full time position and that salary increases be provided to both Council members, noting how the current freeze since 2014 has put the Council out of alignment with other communities.

They also addressed recent changes to the Canada Revenue Act and how the city should cover off the same salary distribution as was in place before the change to the Act which saw the 1/3 tax free provision eliminated.

They also advocated for a raise in salary from $60,000 for the Mayor, to a new level of $75,000 per year, while Council members would see a salary increase to $18,750.

The estimated impact on the city budget would be $55,600.

A review of per diems was also part of their study with a recommendation that there be an adjustment dividing the travel into tiers, one and two, with tier one to feature $100 per day and $50 for half days for areas such as Vancouver, Whistler and Victoria along with others in the Lower Mainland; while tier two in the rest of the province would have per diems of $80 for a full day and $40 for a half day

The Committee also outlined the scope of their review which explored salary structure for a number of communities of nine other communities all under 75,000 in population.

Council members were then offered a chance to ask questions of the Committee members present:

Councillor Adey led off the discussion, thanking the committee for their work and observing that he would hold back on any thoughts until he has heard from the public as part of the budget consultation period that the salary review is taking place during.

Councillor Cunningham also thanked the committee for their work and noted that he too would be waiting for comment from the public.

Councillor Mirau observed as to the awkward situation to have to decide on their own salaries and how he was in favour of the committee structure and looked forward to the feedback from the public,

He also sought some clarification on the adjustment factor that would set pay raises in place on an annual basis.

Committee member Bob Thompson observed as to the process that was underway and noted that in his opinion this was not about the existing council but rather is about the conditions of the positions on Council and what it means for local democracy and the ability to attract the best candidates for office.

Councillor Mirau concurred with those thoughts noting how it offers the opportunity to attract a wide cross section of the community to seek office.

Councillor Randhawa inquired as to the comparisons between neighbouring communities and what their findings were from those examinations, he was advised that their findings for council members were that Prince Rupert was quite low in comparison.

Councillor Skelton Morven also noted how this process wasn't for the current council members but one of being fiscally responsible for the future of our democracy in the town, noting how the salary provisions would allow for the attraction of the right candidates that are not exclusively to those of with strong economic standing and will allow them to maintain a council position based on their workload.

Mayor Brain also thanked them for their time and their report making not how nothing has been set in stone and that the public will have two opportunities for comment, coming up on March 11th and the  25th of March.

The final decision on any salary changes will come in April or May.

( 52:00 -- 1:20:30  ) Budget Presentation from Corinne Bomben, the Chief Financial officer  -- Ms. Bomben provided for the city's financial blue print for the year ahead, the first draft of what will be the final document to come following a public consultation period.

The Presentation provided a review of the Service and Revenue Challenges, Budget requirements, Recommendations for Council, Impact to Property Tax Payers and a review of the Public consultation process ahead.

On the Service and Revenue Challenges, Ms. Bomben made note of such areas as the Digby Island ferry and the required 1 million dollar subsidy required from the city taxpayer to operate it, with Ms. Bomben once again noting that neighbouring communities benefit from the airport but pay only a user fee.

She also reviewed the impact of some of the Provincial Incentive programs which provide for some reduced revenues on local operations from a number of properties. She did acknowledge that some new industries recently in place have not fallen into those provisions and have delivered some revenue to the city.

The impact of that is a taxation burden that falls to the residents and businesses of the community to make up for. She stressed that the current situation is as a result the tax cap that the province has legislated and how the City Council continues to advocate for a change to the regimen from the Province.

When it comes to the spending plan for the year ahead the big projects include: Phase Two of the water project, completion of the expansion of the west berm at the landfill, heating and system replacement at the recreation complex, completion of the scheduled airport ferry refit, replacement of the large garbage truck  and additional paving around the community.

While they have no plans for a significant expansion of services this year, when it comes to Budget requirements cost increases will be found in a number or areas: including contractual wage increases, an RCMP contract increase, the recommendations if adopted from the Blue Ribbon Committee on Council Salary recommendations as well as increased payments to Port Edward through the Ridley Island Tax Agreement, total she noted was now at one and quarter million dollars.

Those costs however have been offset by new tax revenue form expansions and new builds which fall under a municipal controlled tax rate, a financial injection which means there are no plans for a tax increase this year and in fact will deliver a tax reduction of of two percent for tax payers.

As well with a Budget Surplus in hand, the City will be putting half of the surplus towards future debt repayment for a new RCMP detachment, as well as to make for a return for 2 RCMP officers to the force as well as an additional staff officer for the Bylaw department.

Ms. Bomben then provided her annual tutorial no how the city's tax rate is delivered as part of the assessed value of homes as provided by BC assessments, with the mill rate adjusted according to need in the community, as well as to highlight how the city collects taxes for other agencies and where to find those elements on the tax bill.

Her notes included how a homeowner with the same average assessment as last year, could be looking at a 28 dollar tax saving from last year's taxation rate, as well as to some of the home owner grant and tax deferral programs that are available to residents.

She also reviewed the process of the upcoming community consultation period of the budget, with March 11th and 25th Council sessions available to the public to make comments or raise concerns.

Council's observations focused on the tax cut, with Councillor Niesh calling it the best budget that he has seen since taking office, as well as to make note of the the consultation period where the public can express where Council should direct its attention. He also made note of some of the commentary that Council may hear of from the public and how Council still has a lot of work to do and this budget is just one of a shift to bring the city in line with the rest of the province.  He also called attention to the ability of the city to generate revenue, noting how investments in staff allowed for the city to begin the process of a recovery, using Watson Island as a symbol of that progress.

Councillor Mirau also hailed the ability to provide for more services while assessing less taxes, noting that those two terms had not been mentioned in the same sentence in a very long time.

Councillor Adey noted how he couldn't claim any credit for this years financial plan, but was thankful to be on council as it was delivered. He did note that there was a need to strike a balance between what they have to do and some of the initiatives that effect the livability in the community.

Councillor Cunningham also noted how he has been on council for five years and this was the first time he has seen a decrease in taxation, he also was pleased to see the additional body for the bylaw office. He did offer up some cautionary notes that he hoped that the outside jurisdictions that the city collects taxes on behalf of don't take advantage of the city's approach.

He also observed how the process the city uses of work behind the scenes over the last four years have paid off, and that while people think they are hiding something, this is how it all comes together and how those closed meetings were really about getting to the point of where the city is at now.

He too hailed the way the city has approached Watson Island and how it is beginning to deliver results.

Councillor Skelton-Reid spoke to why he ran to council was to reduce the burden on residents and small business and how he believes the next four years will be even brighter.

Councillor Randhawa also noted how the last four years have contributed to the tax decrease and how council needs to continue their work ahead.

Mayor Brain also offered his thanks to staff for their work on the budget, noting how its hard for the public to fully appreciate how hard staff works, and how the city is in a special time in its history with a really motivated, team oriented staff that are happy and excited about their jobs, showing up each day motivated and invested in Prince Rupert now.

He noted how many of them are from Prince Rupert and have returned to the community with plans to stay and how they will be the city's next thirty year plus employees. He observed how its the work of council to ensure that the city is a place where they enjoy working and that the results are showing as to what happens when the staff is motivated.

He paid tribute to the work of the city's management team and that the message is that this is they year where the city turns the corner and how it's time to change the narrative of Prince Rupert and how we perceive ourselves in the community and to bring the pride back.

He observed how while it is only a two percent tax increase it has been decades since a City Council has been able to deliver one and that is no small thing to be considered.

The Mayor reinforced the upcoming consultation period in March and how the budget will be made available for further review on line and at the library.

1:20:30- 1:23:00 ) Report from the City Planner  -- Council heard background on the variance request for a property on Edward Avenue. Council voted to move the process to final consideration.

1:20:30- 1:23:00 ) Report from the City Planner  -- Council heard the details behind a request to remove a covenant on a property on Chamberlain Avenue. Mr. Zeno Krekic outlined how the property, once known as the Neptune Inn is no longer to make use of a plan to turn it into Seniors housing.  With the owner, Macro properties citing increased costs, other seniors housing coming on market and transportation challenges all making for their decision to sell the property.  The potential new owner James Warbuton is requesting a return to the original zoning to allow for a return for the building for accommodation purposes.

The City Planner recounted some of the history of the property and the hospitality industry in the community.He noted how their past study into shadow populations indicated a growing level of travellers to the community who require a place to stay for two to three weeks, noting how the revised proposal would fit into the needs of that shadow population.

He also called attention to an existing number of suites that the proponent operates on First Avenue West in the city. To close his report, he observed that at this time, returning the property to its original zoning and used would be the best option for the city.

Councillor Niesh expressed how if it were a new development perspective it would not be fitting for the area, however as it's an existing building with an existing use as that which has been proposed, he would rather see it being used rather than sitting empty, but did offer caution for any new owners that they are locating in a light industrial area and should be aware of the noise pollution that they may find there. He offered his full support towards lifting the covenant and returning the building to its original use.

Councillor Cunningham noted that he was behind the proposal to 100 percent and how its taking an old building that is an eyesore and how Mr. Warburton's reputation is impeccable and how this development offers the city similar results as were found with his First Avenue building.

As for the Seniors housing issues of the past, the Councillor noted that with the Anchor Inn now open and the new Seniors Facility by Metlakatla to be opened soon, those issues seem to be in hand.

Councillor Randhawa also offered his support for the application.

Council then voted to approve the lifting of the covenant.

( 1:33:00 --1:35:00  ) Report from the Chief Financial Officer on short term borrowing from the Municipal Finance Authority -- Ms. Bomben provided some background on the short term borrowing that was to be used for renovations of the City's jail and for office space at the City Work yard.

Council voted to approve the motion.

( 1:35:00 --1:35:00  ) Report from the Communications Officer on potential grant funding for the CN Rail Heritage building on the waterfront  -- Ms. Veronika Stewart outlined the nature of the range of grant opportunities that the city wishes to pursue towards refurbishment of the CN Station at Waterfront park.  She also noted how that work along with a planned relocation of the Airport Ferry dock to the same area.

Councillor Niesh observed how residents would love to see the waterfront redone and offered up his support towards seeking out the grant opportunities.

The Mayor noted how this was all part of the city's redesign Rupert initiative and is part of a larger vision to get areas of the city revitalized, he also offered his thanks to Ms. Stewart for her work in seeking out these types of Grants.

Council then voted to support the approach outlined by her.

( 1:37:30 - 1:40:00 ) Reports and Comments from Council members 

Mayor Brain led off the conversation by making note of the announcement of last week by Premier Horgan of capital grant infrastructure funding for communities across the region from the province.

Calling it very good news, he outlined how the province is dividing up the 100 million dollars with Prince Rupert expected to receive up to 8 million dollars. He also noted that this was a one time only funding program and that efforts continue to work towards more consistent funding and revenue sharing on a longer term basis for the future.

Councillor Cunningham inquired as to whether the city has heard anything further from a request from Council for a response to traffic issues in the Park Avenue area, he was advised by Ms. Bomben that there are plans by the Ministry to conduct a study.

Mr. Cunningham also  offered up a reminder that the Children's Festival is taking place this weekend at the Civic Centre, noting how they could also use volunteers for the annual event.

You can access the City Council Review for February 25, 2019 herewhere a number of items regarding the council session, including links to local media coverage, can also 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 their website for further review.

Official Minutes of the Regular Council Session from February 25, 2019 (not available yet)

In addition to the city's official minutes, the City's Video archive provides a helpful record of the events from each public council session.

Council members next meet on Monday, March 11, 2019. 

To return to the most recent blog posting of the day, click here.

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