Wednesday, April 10, 2019

City Council Timeline: Monday, April 8, 2019

The Civic Budget was the main attraction of Monday night's City Council session, as Mayor Brain and his six councillors charted the financial course for another year, adding in a few extra dollars from government funding to tackle one surprise and add on to road remediation plan.

As an additional conversation piece on the evening some of the council  members provided a snapshot for residents as to their thoughts on the recent Blue Ribbon Select Committee recommendations on salary increases (spoiler alert ... many of those who spoke are in favour) with some making rather passionate defences for the recommended measures of February.

One housekeeping issue on a variance for a property on First Avenue west and some community notes at the end of the evening brought the session in just under the on hour mark

Some background on the work of Council on the evening and the various Agenda elements for the April 8th Council session can be reviewed here.

Council also met in a Closed Session with a 5 PM meeting which was closed to public viewing.

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, April 8, 2019

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 April 8, 2019

Regular Council Session

( 0:00 -- 1:00 )   Regular City Council Session for April 8, 2019 --  Mayor Brain called the Regular Council Session to order, with Council adopting the agenda and past minutes of previous minutes. 

( 1:00:00 -- 1:00:30 )  Opportunity to Comment -- Re: Development Variance request for a property on 1034 First Avenue West

No members of the public came forward to offer comments.

Reports and Recommendations

1:00:30  --  1:03:00  )   Report from the City Planner in regard to a variance request for a property on 1034 First Avenue West    -- Mr. Zeno Krekic outlined the nature of a variance request from a property owner on First Avenue West.

Council voted to move forward with the variance request proceed to final notification.

(  1:03.00 -- 5:05:00 )   Report from the  Chief Financial Officer   -- Seeking Direction for Staff related to the 2019 Budget and Five Year Financial Plan --  Ms. Bomben outlined the review of the background to the Budget Process making note of a few new items since the last Council session.

Among the notes, the findings of the Rupert Talks survey which had the following results: Agreed with proposed tax reduction 27, Disagreed 23, Six did not know.

The final property assessment values were released, with a final number that was reduced by $25,000 in taxes, which was small enough to be be  absorbed by the organization

Provincial Capital Funding of 8.1 million dollars with staff to bring forward a bylaw reserve amendment devoted to the grant at the next council session.

The Airport Ferry is now in dry dock and staff have been made aware of some additional and unforeseen maintenance issues that need to be dealt with. Included on the list, steel plate replacement, sand blasting and painting, as well as the need for an extension to the substitute barge service all of which will require an additional 350,000 dollars. Staff intends to pay for the additional cost through the 8.1 capital grant funding just received.

The Federal Gas Tax has been doubled which will bring in an additional $600,000 with staff looking to allocate 500,000 dollars worth of the one time increase towards paving this year.

Council has chosen to participate in the EV Charging Station program and staff has recommended using the remaining Gas Tax Funding to cover off the 20,000 dollar cost of the stations.

( 5:05 -- 35:00 ) Discussion on 2019 Budget and Financial Plan -- Mayor Brain invited members of Council to offer  up their comments and offer direction to staff related to the 2019 Budget and Financial Plan.  The comments from Council members were as follows:

Councillor Adey -- Mr. Adey started off his inquiries by asking about the Blue Ribbon committee recommendations on Compensation for Council and Mayor and then asked about a difference in this years numbers from last year, Ms. Bomben noted that the salary recommendations are built into the governance had been noted in the February 25th Report to Council, as for the financial differences, they were attributed to the new funding that the city has received this year from the province and Federal governments, as well as by way of dividends through Legacy Inc.

Councillor Neish -- Mr. Niesh observed as to the range of opinions that can be found in the community and made note of when he first ran for council that he wanted to be able to provide for a tax decrease and shift the burden away from residents and towards industry, with this the first year that Council has been able to attempt to do that. He also observed how some of the new funding that the city has received will be put towards things that residents wish to see such as a paving plan towards one million dollars this year.

Councillor Mirau -- Mr. Mirau offered up a motion to make a slight change to the formula, calling for a one percent tax decrease, while dedicating the other one percent towards asset maintenance of key community infrastructure through capital reserves. Noting that with the large injection of money from AltaGas on Ridley and Pembina on Watson Island the city could begin to address that balance between residential and industrial taxes. He suggested what he called a Win-Win-Win situation where if they were to keep the 1 percent from the 2 percent tax decrease proposed, then they could invest in infrastructure. He also expressed his confidence in the financial year ahead and how the city was long overdue in the investment in asset management so as not to hand off an infrastructure deficit to the next generation.

Councillor Adey seconded the motion for purpose of debate, with the review of Mr. Mirau's proposal providing for a fair bit of comment, but no support for the requested change to the tax decrease as originally set at 2 percent

As for the comments on Mr. Mirau's proposal some of the key notes are as follows:

Councillor Adey -- He observed of his early discussions as he sought office and how the consistent theme was that there was too much stress associated with the tax level the city had in place. He noted that Council should think of the proposed 2 percent tax cut as the start of something and if things fall into place as expected, it could be the start of a trend to normalize the tax burden as found in other communities. He did suggest that they could revisit the suggestion towards infrastructure investment next year.

Councillor Cunningham -- Mr. Cunningham noted that council owes it to the community to put in place this tax decrease now, adding how just a bit of encouragement may provide some relief for local residents and business owners. He called on the work towards Watson Island and the Mayor's efforts on tax caps and the RBA discussions. noting how they could bring in more revenue. He also expressed confidence that the work of Council will deliver the results that they have been looking for. He also suggested that the 2 per cent tax decrease could be a symbolic moment for Council to indicate how well things are going and to offer a bright light for the community.

Councillor Neish -- Mr. Niesh offered up how it was a chance to shift things back in the other direction, noting how far the city has come from the days of having borrowed money on expectations on returns from the Pulp Mill.  He agreed that there is a need to put money into capital assets such as sidewalks and roads, yet he believes that the community wants to see a tax decrease

Councillor Skelton Morven -- Calling it a rock and a hard place decision, Councillor Skelton-Morven did share Mr. Mirau's desire for asset management, but felt that at this point and the length of the tax burden that residents have faced, the symbolic gesture would be a welcome move.

Councillor Randhawa -- Councillor Randhawa was also in favour of the 2 percent decrease, adding how he would like to see more industry locate on Watson Island and that the City also consider lowering the impact of the utility fees and taxes, as well as some of the other fees that are charged to residents as well.

Councillor Mirau then offered up some rebuttals to the points as outlined, noting how he was not advocating for the raising of taxes, but simply to change the level of the decrease. He also called on his experience as the Chair of the Small Business Committee and noted that they had recommended a tax freeze for this year and using that money to leverage grants for infrastructure investments and other asset to help make the community more livable

With a few more comments from Council members in response to Mr. Mirau's themes, including some observations from the Mayor on how they rarely have occasion to decrease taxes and this was an opportunity to make the message to the community that they are working on the tax issue.

Council then quashed his motion for change to the tax decease, with Council members voting to stay the course with the 2 percent property tax reduction.

( 35:00--48:30 ) As a secondary topic on the evening, Councillor Nick Adey introduced the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon panel on council salaries and sought out some discussion on how Council members may view the course of action that was recommended from the February presentation.

The councillor began the discussion making note of his observations following conversations with the public, stating that a good proportion of people he spoke with do not think that the recommended increases are that big a deal, though he did acknowledge that there were those who were strongly opposed; he also noted how some stated that if you wanted to attract quality candidates, you need to provide for a salary that will interest would be candidates.

Councillor Niesh said he had not heard any negativity about the salary increases and noted that upon travels to events that the majority of the make up of other council memberships is that of retired or near retired members. He pointed to the group around the chamber that has been recently voted to office in Prince Rupert as providing for a good cross section of all generations. He also pointed to the sacrifice that he makes on a personal basis to hold his seat,  stating that people shouldn't have to sacrifice their income to hold the position, noting the amount of time that is consumed by their duties. He observed that the amount of time and effort that is put in by everyone in the Chamber warrants a little bit more money, noting that no one should sacrifice their lifestyle just to sit in the Council seat.

He further observed that the recommended raise is small, and that the committee has put forward some good numbers, as well as to note that from the Salary committee presentation, that Mr. Thompson was right by what he said about how better pay would attract a better group of people to run for office.

Councillor Cunningham concurred with Councillor Niesh, noting that he had not heard from many people who had a problem with the recommended pay increases, adding that for those that do he offers up some direction, pointing to the work of Mayor Brain. Noting how he had been at a conference this weekend and wasn't paid any extra for that weekend of work and may very well have had to dip into his pocket to cover costs not covered by the per Diem's. He added that yes it's going to help some people, but it wont' be a full time job for anyone, he also suggested that anyone looking to get rich at politics explore a higher level such as provincial or federal office.

Mr. Cunningham also observed as to the demands on their time, with councillors frequently approached while out on the streets about issues; returning to the Mayor's position he noted that the Mayor was running a city with a budget of 35-40 million dollars and suggested people check and see how much an executive of a similar company would make. He also made note that there are many travel demands on the Mayor when it comes to his work in representing the region. He further noted that anyone who says that the Mayor doesn't deserve his wage or the councillors theirs, should walk in their shoes sometimes.

To conclude his remarks, he also called attention to the personal sacrifices that council members make and the time away from their families that the positions require and how no amount of money will give them that time back.

Councillor Randhawa inquired as to whether Council was voting on the salary question tonight, he was advised by the Chief Financial Officer, that while they were voting on the Budget that includes the salary increases, a separate indemnity bylaw towards the salary increase would be required and brought forward at a future meeting, Mr. Randhawa then deferred his comments until that time.

Councillor Skelton-Morven joined the chorus of those in support of the salary increases, noting that he believes that people of all walks of life should be able to represent their community, calling the issue one that will make for a fairer democracy and attract more young candidates with great ideas that could come and shape the community. He further observed how that the best plan of action is to deal with the question for the sake of democracy and for fair and equal representation at the Council table.

Neither Councillor Mirau, or the Mayor chose to weigh in on the topic as part of the Monday evening session.

As Ms. Bomben had noted previously in the evening the salary increase bylaw will require a separate amendment which will allow for one more round of discussions on the salary issue should members desire. The timeline for the introduction of that amendment was not outlined at the Monday session.

Correspondence for Action

( 48:30  -- 53:37 ) Reports Questions and Comments from Council members 

Councillor Cunningham had a number of comments and questions to relay asking towards the following:

Will the city be looking at the housing grant programs run through Northern Development Investment Trust, with the Mayor observing that they will be following up on some of the initiatives that have been offered. Mr. Brain relayed some of his conversations with Joel McKay of NDIT on the topic.

Mr. Cunningham also asked that line painting be put on the list for the Rushbrook Floats, as well as some more stringent enforcement actions related to parking  in that area.

He also reminded council of their plans of last February to bring in groups to provide presentations to Council during Committee of the Whole, asking that a schedule be drawn up so council members know which group will be presenting. As well, he asked that the Airport Society be one of the first to be put on the list to provide an update on the activities of the airport.

As a final item he noted that there are still a few issues related to parking at the McLean Shipyard end of the Rushbrook Trail and asked that the city increase its campaign of awareness as to where people using the trail can park.

Councillor Niesh called for a more vigorous information campaign related to the city's nuisance car removal program, adding that if residents have a concern in their neighbourhood that they should call in their concerns to the city's bylaw office.

With no other comments from Council members, the Mayor then brought the Council session to close.

You can access the City Council Review for April 8th 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 April 8th, 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.

The Next session for Prince Rupert City Council is scheduled for April 29th,  which will be a Committee of the Whole Night, offering up an opportunity for the public to comment on other issues of concern to Council if they wish.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment