Friday, March 15, 2019

Temperatures on the rise over Ridley Island Tax Dispute

Caught in the middle of a nasty spat! The Prince Rupert Fire/Rescue
service reportedly won't respond to mutual assistance calls with
Port Edward as a long acrimonious Tax revenue dispute continues on

The first flashes of anger came during the 2018 Municipal election campaign with the City council re-introducing a tax agreement between Prince Rupert and Port Edward into the debate.

The political talking point becoming a firestorm of commentary that clearly revealed the vast rift between the two communities, as Prince Rupert officials continued their push to have the long running agreement changed to a more favourable split of the annual transfer of funds.

With a lull in the public proclamations from the Prince Rupert side once the election was over, the two sides apparently returned to their discussions with some new faces on the Port Edward side of the negotiating table, but if some recent reports through the Mayor's online portal are any indication those talks are clearly off the rails.

The latest of comments that are coming out of the District of Port Edward would seem to suggest that the City of Prince Rupert is certainly putting a significant amount of pressure on the smaller community down the highway, pushing hard to have the District to see things Prince Rupert's way.

The latest casualty of the growing notes of animosity between the two appears to be a mutual aid agreement between the two communities.

The main thrust of which will apparently find Prince Rupert Fire personnel stay within Prince Rupert's city limits should any call for help come from the District.

Something that would seem to be an extreme indication of the hard line that the City of Prince Rupert is taking as part of the negotiations.

But one that perhaps should require a little sober second thought and perhaps  a move towards making an emergency response call out, as rare as they seem to be,  as an item of exclusion from the larger issues of shared services and the division of revenues from the Ridley dispute.

During Prince Rupert's recent Boil Water Order of December and January, the Mayor made note of the assistance that Port Ed provided by allowing Rupert residents to access the Port Ed water supply, going so far as to add a PS to his lengthy Facebook post of the time.

PS - I’d also like to thank Port Edward for opening their taps to our community. Although we have our disagreements in respect to the Ridley Island Tax Sharing Agreement, over the years both communities have been there to support each other in times of need and crisis and it’s sincerely appreciated at this time! --Mayor Lee Brain thanking Port Ed for assistance in January

Apparently that observation of just two months ago was a case of that was then ... this is now!

The District of  Port Edward Fire Hall

The approach towards any response by the Fire Department would seem to be tied to the city's long sought after goal of a Shared Services agreement, though holding back assistance in a time of any emergency for a neighbour makes for a puzzling negotiation strategy and one that doesn't paint the city in the best of lights.

The current flare up of the long running feud between communities came back in September, when the Mayor recounted the theme of his conversation with provincial officials on the situation.

It has returned to the full boil as the word now gets out that the negotiations apparently have not gone well.

The Mayor who is usually very quick to his Facebook portal with comments and statements when he or the city are put in the spotlight was back there this morning, addressing what he calls the misleading comments from Port Edward:

Folks, it pains me to have to make this post, but unfortunately the District of Port Edward has forced our hand once again. The comments made at the District of Port Edward’s Council Meeting held this week are misleading and part of an established pattern of bad faith and unprofessional negotiations. Once again, Port Edward has chosen to make public remarks instead of negotiating in good faith.

He also addressed the Fire Department issues as part of his Facebook thoughts.

In February, the District of Port Edward unfortunately allowed their Mutual Aid Agreement with Prince Rupert to lapse. Without a Mutual Aid Agreement in place, the Prince Rupert Fire Department legally cannot attend a fire in Port Edward without taking on personal liability for injury to victims of fire, or themselves. 

Weeks ago, we formally invited Port Edward to discuss a Mutual Aid Agreement, and have requested that they provide a written offer which has not yet been received. We absolutely do not wish to be in a position where we cannot provide aid to neighbours in their time of need.

The full statement, available here, retraces much of the background to the issue that city has put forward in the past and provides the Mayor's view of the state of the negotiations, or lack of in this instance, as well as his call for the Province to step in and resolve the issue.

Today's notes make for the first public comments that  Mr. Brain has offered up, since his rhetorically charged October address, the ongoing issue one which Council members have not brought to the Council  table during the course of this years Council meetings.

Though considering how most of Council's meetings last less than forty minutes; saying much of anything substantive on topics in public, doesn't seem to be high on the to do list for the members around the Third Avenue West chamber these days.

And with that, the narrative for the moment is being driven by the notes out of Port Edward, leaving the City to effectively have to play some defence over how their stance is being portrayed through the media.

The Ridley agreement has long been a focus for the Mayor and most of the Council membership, the main feature of a Facebook war that captured the attention of the community in the fall.

As they craft their 2019 Budget the Tax Agreement again looms large in the documentation mentioned prominently as part of the presentation to Council of the Budget by CFO Corinne Bomben in late February, followed up by an online presentation that puts some of the focus on the Ridley dispute with comments included from the Mayor and City Manager.

The current budget engagement process is also making the Ridley Island Tax Agreement a theme for the newly created Rupert Talks forum, an online project hosted by the City's website and moderated by the city's Communication Manager Veronika Stewart.

As part of their information notes on the Ridley situation, the Rupert Talks project is hosting a survey which asks the opinion of the residents of the City when it comes to the current agreement.

Participants are given three options to provide a response Yes, No, or I don't know.

The one flaw with the community engagement from Rupert Talks on the Tax issue is the lack of opportunity for any extensive commentary from the participant.  So in this case, the guidance that the city will receive seems to be fairly limited in its scope, which is an unfortunate thing considering the importance of the topic.

Council members missed an opportunity to update the public on the state of relations with our neighbours at their most recent Council session, wrapping things up with few comments and exiting the Council camber before the forty five minute mark of the night's proceedings.

While negotiating in public is obviously not something that should take place, sharing information with residents is something that all of the Council members need to take charge of, advising the community where things stand and where they are going.

If that means another run at the provincial government to reopen the agreement as the Mayor has indicated, then we should hear about that from our elected officials in the public forum of a Council session and perhaps hear some guidance from MLA Jennifer Rice, who has somehow managed to have had little to say in public on the long running dispute, dating back to her arrival in the Legislature in 2013.

Considering the extensive amount of time and effort that the Mayor and council put towards controlling their narratives out of City Hall, they are quickly falling behind events on this one, something that must surely be an unusual feeling for them.

While there clearly is a Four Alarm political fire burning at the moment,  holding the Fire Department as a hammer is an approach may not be one that resonates well with fair minded Rupertites.

We've been following the Ridley Tax Dispute for a fairly long period of time, you can review our archive notes below:

October 2018 -- The Prince Rupert City Council Forum: Eight variations of a similar theme
September 2018 -- The Victory speech he won't have to make: Mayor Brain's Northern View podcast moments 
September 2018 -- Ridley Island Tax issues with Port Edward remain a concern for City officials
June 2018 -- Annual Report presentation channels many of the Hays 2.0 themes
June 2018 -- Partnerships and Solutions part of the focus for City of Prince Rupert's 2017 Annual Report
May 2018 -- In your mailbox this week ... your 2018 Property Tax Bills
May 2018 -- City releases notes on recent audit of 2017 finances
April 2018 -- Small Business Committee Report finds common ground with many City Council initiatives
April 2018 -- City's Small Business advisory committee to deliver report to Council tonight
March 2018 -- In final year of their mandate, City Council's list of feuds continues to grow
March 2018 -- City's Budget Presentation now available online; providing City's message along with a review of revenues, expenses and taxation loads
March 2018 -- Some rumblings of discontent from one of the BC NDP's most loyal constituencies
February 2018 -- Budget preview charts course towards public consultation period in Prince Rupert
February 2018 -- Council members to receive Chief Financial Officer's 2018 fiscal blue print tonight

June 2017 -- City's Annual Report available online; public comment session set for June 26th
June 2017 -- City's tax notices make their journey to your mailbox this week
May 2017 -- Prince Rupert City Council's election Quiz
March 2017 -- Familiar themes and a mill rate increase mark Budget Presentation to council

For its part, up until this week, the District of Port Edward has not made the relationship with Prince Rupert much of a public discussion issue over the last few years.

Though back in 2016 the District did offer up a different interpretation when it comes to the Service Agreement and noted at the time, that they were planning to  seek out a legal opinion on the Tax Agreement prior to any further discussions with the City of Prince Rupert.

Considering how it all seems to be going three years later, the dispute seems more than likely destined to end up in the hands of others to come to some kind of conclusion.

On page eight of this years budget presentation documentation there is an interesting line on the nature of the city's thoughts toward working with its neighbours.

We're not sure how things are going these days with Metlakatla and Lax Kw'alaams, though when it comes to the state of affairs between Prince Rupert and Port Edward, the word strained may be about the kindest description that the thesaurus can offer.

For more notes related to City Council Discussion themes see our archive page here.

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


  1. Bruce, tjis is a horribly misleading article. the city is not using fire as a bargain chip. read the release again it clearly says port ed allowed agreement to lapse, not other way around. Direct quote from the mayor: "We absolutely do not wish to be in a position where we cannot provide aid to our neighbours in their time of need"

    1. Bruce? Well Ok, if you insist. Direct quotes notwithstading, the impression from the other side of the bridge seems rather different than the latest of rhetoric from the mayor or Prince Rupert. As for mutual aid, for most communities that would be something a community should offer to their neighbour without a question and separate from any spats over tax revenue. Guess we will just have to see how all the spin plays out, but my guess is, that if you ask people in Prince Rupert if they would lend assistance in a time of need, the answer would be yes ...

  2. stop trying to roll all your complaints about the mayor/city into 1 article makes you look petty and complicates the actual issue: Port Ed needs to get to the table ASAP

  3. Nah, recounting the backstory to the situation is hardly complaints, it is however something that should be provided. Rather than complicate, my impression is that it clarifies the ongoing problems. Other than Prince Rupert saying that it's not fair, No one has really explained why Port Edward should give up the revenue that was allocated to them. As they noted this week, they will be the community in the most danger from increased Port activity and since we apparently are not going to lend assistance in that time of need, my guess is that they can make a pretty good case now for the current arrangement. But hey, thanks for your observations, we love to get mail NCR