Wednesday, April 29, 2020

City Council Timeline: Monday, April 27, 2020

Monday's Prince Rupert City Council session provided for two very different themes, the first 25 minutes for the most part the more familiar topics of civic governance, with a review of variance requests, a request for a proclamation and the final vote on the 2020 Prince Rupert Budget and Property Tax Bylaw.

The remaining 34 minutes more of a political rally, as the City Manager, Chief Financial Officer, Mayor and five of the six council members in attendance by phone, rallied to the call of the Mayor's recent themes in these times of the city's COVID response.

Along the way, there was also a nod towards some civic issues such as a need for more housing, the frequently mentioned wisdom of the work of council on Watson Island and the Legacy fund and some odds and ends relayed by the Council members in the waning moments of the fifty nine minute meeting.

Some background on the work of Council on the evening and the various Regular Agenda elements for the April 27th Council session can be explored here.

Council also hosted a Closed Session earlier in the evening, the details as to why they required the doors to be closed for the 5PM meeting can be reviewed here.

The regular monthly Committee of the Whole session and its public comment opportunity, which comes with the final council meeting of each month was cancelled on April 20th . ( see notice here)

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 27, 2020

Mayor Lee Brain -- Present ( in Council Chamber)
Councillor Nick Adey --  Present  (by phone)
Councillor Barry Cunningham --  Present (by phone)
Councillor Blair Mirau -- Present (by phone)
Councillor Reid Skelton-Morven --  Absent
Councillor Wade Niesh -- Present (by phone)
Councillor Gurvinder Randhawa --   Present  (by phone)

Video Archive for Monday, April 27, 2020

Committee of the Whole Session

City Council cancelled the planned March 23rd Committee of the Whole and public comment period. 

That cancellation was announced on April 20th


Regular Council Session

(0:00 -- 1:00 )   Regular City Council Session for Monday, April 27, 2020  -- Mayor Brain called the Regular Council Session to order, with Council adopting the agenda, with a revision to the adoption of the Financial Plan and Property Tax Bylaws. 

1:30 -- 3:00 ) Report from the Director of Recreation and Community Services related to the selection of the successful bid for the boiler system upgrade project -- The City's Financial Officer Corinne Bomben outlined the nature of the Bid process and the recommended award to Slopeside Mechanical Systems, noting that the project would be funded by the gas tax.

In a follow up to a question from Councillor Mirau, Ms. Bomben confirmed that the 100 percent of the project was to be funded by the gas tax. Council then approved the contract award

(3:00 -- 5:00 ) -- Report from Corporate Administrator related to a property variance application for a property on Jamaica Avenue -- With Councillor Niesh recusing himself from the process, Ms. Rosa Miller outlined the nature of the variance request.

Council then approved the permit, sending it to Public Notification

5:00 -- 7:30 ) -- Report from Corporate Administrator related to a property variance application for a property on Kaien Road  --  Ms. Miller once again outlined the nature of the variance request, which is an addition to an existing warehouse on the property.

Councillor Adey made an inquiry related to the application, asking as to if this would address issues related to the property form back in 2010. He was advised that would be the case.

Council then approved the permit, sending it to Public Notification.

7:30--8:30  ) -- Request for a Proclamation from Child Find BC --  With Councillor Cunningham joining the Council meeting late, the Mayor outlined the details of the request to proclaim May 25th as Child Find Day. Council members then approved the request, with Mr. Brain noting how it was a worthwhile initiative.


( 8:30 -- 22:00 ) Prior to adopting the required Bylaws to the Financial Plan and Property Tax Bylaws, the city's Chief Financial Officer Corinne Bomben provided a report on the impact of the COVID pandemic on the city's Budget planning.

Among her themes were: BC assessments revised rolls to the end of March provided no significant changes to assessed values, but as a result of the COVID Pandemic there have been some revenue reductions which has resulted in some adjustments.

To offset those changes the City has made staff reductions and left vacancies unfilled, implemented travel curtailments and made modifications to small service activity, with the remainder of the changes to be offset through a dividend from the Legacy funding instrument.

On the use of the Legacy money, Ms. Bomben noted how: "We are fortunate that council's foresight to create a municipal enterprise to diversify the use of city assets such as Watson Island are providing us the cushion needed during this global crisis."

Ms. Bomben also noted that some additional review of the city's financial Budget planning will be required this fall: "We expect we will need to revisit the budget through a budget amendment  later in year as more certainty is garnered"

As for the Financial bylaw Ms. Bomben observed that the 0% per tax rate increase remains intact as part of this years Budget determinations.

Towards discussion, many of the Council members made note of the use of Watson Island to assist in their Budget revisions during this period of pandemic, with Councillor Cunningham noting how it's the city's saviour at this time. 

For his part Councillor Adey made note of how they are entering a challenging time from a period of strength, giving credit to staff and observed how there was much unknown ahead and how they may have to take a second look at the budget down the road a bit.

Councillor Mirau also concurred that there would likely be a need for an amendment later in the year and how the city has proven to be resilient in the past. He also had a question related to the financial plan asking as to some examples of the instruments used to keep the tax adjustment.

In reply, Ms. Bomben outlined some of the measures, including a couple of retirements and moves from staff that won't be replaced, the potential reduction in the use of casual workers and how the city will also make use of less beautification moves, less mowing and evaluate through the year where they can make those service reductions.

Presently she again reinforced the use of the legacy funding and how they could make use of it into the months ahead if required.

Councillor Adey then followed up with questions related to the increase revenues from other sources outside of property taxes and how that may impact on the search for provincial and federal grants.

Ms. Bomben noted that any time a grant is identified, the City aggressively pursues those options, noting that there is a high chance that there may be some stimulus packages to put people back to work and the city is ready to pounce on those opportunities.

The Councillor then inquired as to the nature of projected increases and what they are based on, something which led to a larger discussion on the topic of the RCMP detachment replacement also came into the discussion on the night, with the CFO noting that in 2022 there is a proposed expenditure for a loan for the he detachment and how it is not carved in stone and could be adjusted, and will require a Borrowing Bylaw to incur that expenditure.

Ms. Bomben did note that the city is mandated by the RCMP to rebuild the detachment and that the estimate is the best guess at the moment as to what it will cost, which is why it's in the budget.

The Mayor then outlined how the approval of the two bylaws would work, noting that Council would also be giving final approval on the same night, something allowed under revised rules from the Provincial government.

( 22:00  -- 24:30 ) -- Five Year Financial Plan Bylaw -- Council gave first, second, third and Final Adoption to the Bylaw

( 24:30 -- 25:30 ) -- 2020 Property Tax Bylaw -- Council gave first, second third and Final Adoption to the Bylaw

The Mayor paid tribute to the work of Staff and Council on the Budget program, particularly in the unusual circumstances of recent weeks during the pandemic situation. 

( 25:30 -- 32:00 )   Overview from City Manager Robert Long  -- The Mayor turned some time for the evening over to the City Manager who provided an update on how the city has been managing the Pandemic situation.

Among some of his themes, the delivery of essential services safely and to understand the rapidly changing situation.

He made note of the Local State of Emergency, which was subsequently cancelled by the Province,  which turned the city's attention towards returning to the focus on controlling essential services and working towards businesses continuity.

Long observed how they had sending a lot of people and now slowly moving people back into the workplace and minimizing the amount of staff, with operations now focused on essential services and other maintenance issues, though he noted some services will be minimized during this period.

He outlined how some of the operations have seen reduced revenue streams pointing to the airport ferry as one example. 

As some areas were ordered to close by the Provincial order, they closed the Recreation Centre, however Mr. Long noted of the efforts of some staffers towards the creation of masks for the good of the community during that period of closure time.

Mr. Long also made a nod towards the use of Legacy funding and how Council and staff have all been working in the same direction during this period.

"We are in a pretty good position because of Legacy, to be able to weather this difficulty, but I think it's important that we as an organization and as a team all see ourselves as heading in the same direction. And I think that's what's been happening and I just want to take this opportunity to publicly thank the staff and the council for continuing to support us in being able to do our job"

( 32:00 -- 41:00Overview from Mayor Lee Brain --- The Mayor's report put the focus on the tough times faced by everyone in the community whether grocery store workers or city staff members, noting that the priority for their twelve hour days has been to keep the community safe, as well as to engage with regional and First Nations partners.

He observed that we are heading towards what will be a recovery phase for the community, while still aware of a second wave of pandemic that could come this fall.

He then shifted to the city's engagement on Watson Island recounting some of the history and hailing Council's Foresight in 2015 to look at Watson Island as a revenue generating instrument. Mr. Brain also made note of of the lease arrangement with Pembina and the ongoing quest for other proponents for the industrial site to provide for other streams of revenue for the community.

The Mayor offered up his observation as to how this is offering support for the community at this time and as part of this years budget, with Mr. Brain recapping some of their past work on budget work in previous years, while acknowledging the prospect of a review this fall as the full impact of the post COVID situation becomes clear.

He noted how the City will still be moving forward with a number of project, including their paving plans for the year, the RCMP replacement plans, as well as landfill and water projects.

Towards some of the other proposals through Redesign Rupert he outlined how they continue to move forward with those plans, though some such as the Seal Cove work may be delayed a bit.

On housing he observed on the plans for Drake Crescent, the sixty units from the Lax Kw'alaams housing plans on donated city land as noted at the Redesign Rupert event.

Mr. Brain relayed how housing is the community's largest priority, particularly with the prospect of increased economic growth at the port.

"The biggest priority we have right now is affordable housing, affordable housing, affordable housing, market housing all kind of housing, we need to drastically increase the amount of housing that we have in this community. To be able to not only attract new workers here but also to provide new units for residents who need affordable units to live in."

The Mayor also recounted their ambitions for downtown redevelopment and noted how the work will continue towards an overhaul of the Official Community Plan, which has been delayed owing to the COVID pandemic with opportunities ahead for community engagement on those plans.

He also shared some notes on the city's plans for a recruitment and retention campaign strategy to attract workers and their families to the community which was supposed to launch in March, though it has been deferred to later this year or early 2021 owing to the pandemic.

While cautioning that the city doesn't know where things will be in the fall, Mr. Brain remains cautiously optimistic for the community moving into the future, where the city can balance concerns coming out of the pandemic with some of their previously announced plans.

( 41:00  -- 59:00 Reports from Council

For the most part, the City's Councillors picked up on many of the Mayor's and City Manager's themes for their comments for the night,

Councillor Randhawa led off the discussion, relaying some concerns he has heard about of out of province and out of country visitors coming the to city, an opening which provided a chance for the Mayor to recount the City's proposed plans under their Local State of Emergency which were quashed by the Province in late March.

He noted how there should be stronger mechanisms to limit non-essential travel, noting how the city does not have that much power to limit or stop those visits, acknowledging how the Province regulates those elements through provincial orders.

"That is as far as we can take it, we wanted to do that a month and a half ago now, to put those limits in to put those restrictions in to at least get us through, we're hoping everyone is following the rules anyways" -- Mayor Lee Brain

Councillor Adey  spoke to the missing element of the Committee of the Whole on the night and how he believes that Council believes that its an important thing and is facing challenges in these unusual times, noting that the councillors can be accessed through phone calls and emails. He also wondered if there was a way to incorporate public input towards the council sessions in this period.

The Mayor outlined some of the challenges that the city faces and how some solutions may be on the horizon for digital versions of Public Hearings, or Committee of the Whole sessions.

Mr. Adey also shared some of his thoughts on the work of front line personnel in the community  how all residents are facing challenges and stress during this period of time.

Adey also spoke to the cancelled Local State of Emergency, sharing similar comments as those of the Mayor on the move by the province to cancel it and how he believes there is a need to recognize the role of the local government.

"I do think there needs to be attention to the discretionary ability of the local governments to make independent decisions which reflect the local knowledge that every community has about their unique circumstances. We're not in the same circumstances as urban municipalities and  larger cities ... and I think we need to maintain an awareness of that.  But I think that cooperation between levels of government is really important and I think that there are really good people at all three levels." -- Councillor Nick Adey

For his contribution on the night, Councillor Cunningham came out of the gate on the attack towards the senior levels of government and how they have engaged with the region during these recent times.

"With that said about all three levels of government, that's fine and dandy but Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii and our villages are really unique communities and I don't think the Senior levels of government have taken that into consideration, I'm sorry, we've got to cooperate, but at the same time cooperation is listening to your local governments, and sometimes I don't think we're being listened to"

Mr. Cunningham, much like Mr. Randhawa then recounted some of the comments he has heard from residents of the region of many visitors coming through the area.

He also launched a bit of a discussion as to the staffing levels for the city's bylaw officers, inquiring as to how many were currently employed by the City. Something which seemed to leave the Mayor puzzled as to the current status of that office. The corporate Administrator helped to sort out that question by verifying that there are two on staff.

On the theme of the public gaining access to the city council members, the Councillor urged the public to contact them by email, or phone or text and they will find answers to their questions, he also observed as to the lack of engagement in the community in periods outside of the election period. Cunningham also  stressed the importance of the public to get involved from the beginning of the work and not just to comment on it at the end, noting how its important that Council hear from them as they develop plans.

Councillor Niesh commended those businesses that have remained open during this unusual period of time to serve the community, making note of some of the changes to their operations that have been required to do that.

Councillor Mirau first made note of a slight procedural issue for the night, reminding council that they had missed the adoption of the minutes at the start of the meeting, with Council then taking care of that missing element on the night.

Mr. Mirau also shared his appreciation for the local business community and how they have adapted to the many challenging situations that they have faced and how he hopes the city has done much the same as they have faced their own challenges over the last few months. He also paid tribute to those residents of the city who have shared their support for those on the front lines in the community.

The Mayor then made note of some of the avenues available to the public to contact the elected officials and staff members and with that Council adjourned their meeting.

You can access our archive on the City Council Session here where 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 27, 2020 (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 May 11th.

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

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