In effect, the Prince Rupert City Financial Plan as delivered on Monday will be a Bridging Budget, the first of what will be two reviews of the city's financial picture in 2020 owing to the COVID pandemic.
Prince Rupert City Council, participating remotely by phone on the night as part of their ongoing social distancing program, approved the Five year Financial Plan and Property Tax bylaw at the Monday evening session.
The Council members holding to their promises of a 0% tax increase for the year, with a portion of the financial planning seemingly achieved through the use of a dividend from the city's Legacy financial instrument through revenues from leasing on Watson Island.
As she revealed the final draft of the Financial Plan, Chief Financial Officer Corrine Bomben explored a range of themes that have had an impact on the plan, starting with the advisory that the BC Assessments revised rolls to the end of March had provided no significant changes to assessed values, but as a result of the COVID Pandemic there have been some department revenue reductions which has resulted in some adjustments.
Some of the areas where the city has seen some decreased revenues include the fees collected by the Recreation Centre, Cow Bay Marina, Transit use and Airport Ferry service.
The latter a service which has been on an essential service level basis since flights in and out of Prince Rupert Airport were suspended.
To offset those changes, while not exploring the moves in much in the way of detail, Ms. Bomben noted that the City has made staff reductions and not filled vacancies, put in place travel curtailments and made modifications to small service activity.
With the remainder of the financial balancing act being offset through a dividend from the Legacy funding instrument.
On the use of the Legacy money, Ms. Bomben moved away from the numerical and veered into the political; an unusual thing for city staff members in other communities, but a frequent element of late in Prince Rupert, that as the member of senior city staff observed:
"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."
The April Budget work however, is just the start of what may be a two stage review of the City's financial picture this year.
That as Ms. Bomben noted that some additional review of the city's financial Budget planning will be required this fall.
The second look, one that will provide a clearer picture of the impact on the city's financials in the wake of the COVID pandemic and whatever financial surprises may come along the way this summer and fall.
"We expect we will need to re-visit 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, as will plans for some critical capital projects.
Towards discussion on the Budge, once raised by the CFO, Councillor Cunningham was the first to salute the Watson flag.
That as he made note of the use of Watson Island to assist in their Budget revisions during this period of pandemic, with Mr. Cunningham noting how "it's the city's saviour at this time."
For his part Councillor Adey observed as to 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.
Mr. Mirau 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 made note of a couple of retirements and moves from staff that won't be replaced, she also alluded to 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.
Though she did once again, take the opportunity to reinforce the use of the Legacy funding and how they could make additional use of it into the months ahead if required.
Councillor Adey then followed up with a question related to the prospects for increased 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, with the CFO noting that in 2022 there is a proposed expenditure for a loan for the detachment.
Ms. Bomben noted how it is not carved in stone and could be adjusted, and will require a Borrowing Bylaw to incur that expenditure prior to any work getting underway.
Ms. Bomben did remind the councillors 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.
While there was much discussion as to how the Legacy Fund and the Watson revenues have assisted the Budget, there was no explanation provided as to how much money was required to make their Budget plan complete.
Likewise, there was no breakdown as to how much maneuvering space some of the cost saving measures now in motion have provided.
Nor did the CFO or Council members say specifically how many employees may have been laid off, have retired or how many positions remain vacant and how that may impact on the level of service at the City.
To bring the bylaw voting to a conclusion, 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.
That, as the mayor explained was an unusual way of adopting the financial plan and property tax, which usually requires a special session for the approval phase, though as Mr. Brain observed the province has changed that requirement for this year owing to the unusual times related to the pandemic.
Later in the session, the Mayor would make his own remarks on a range of topics, the focus on the budget that of how the City intends to carry forward on many of the infrastructure plans, such as the paving program for this year, the work on the landfill site and the water infrastructure program to name a few.
Though Mr. Brain also noted that some of the other plans revealed in recent months may be delayed or deferred to later as a result of the current situation.
Likewise, City Manager Robert Long had a number of observations related both to budget planning and city operations during this period of the city's history.
He also reinforced some of the notes from Ms. Bomben's presentation, such as how the city will reduce some of their lawn and garden maintenance work, as well as the hit the city has taken on some of their revenue resources.
He also pointed towards the use of Legacy funding as part of the Budget process and City's COVID response.
"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"
All of those budget themes are explored further in our Council Timeline feature here.
You can review the presentation of the Budget and the conversation that followed from the City's Video Archive, starting at the eight minute mark.
For more items related to the Budget process see our archive page here.
A wider overview of the Council session from Monday can be explored here, while a review of past Council sessions can be found here.