Friday, June 4, 2021

A can of Worms ... and other conversation starters

Monday's City Council session was a fairly informative bit of civic governance, perhaps a little more than was intended when the Agenda for the night was published. 

That after a vague reference to a variance request expanded into Council breaking some news of another shift in focus towards how the they may be planning to address infrastructure concerns.

As we noted on Wednesday, the variance request for a proposed garage on a back lane on the east side of the city provided for the spark to the lengthy conversation by the council membership. 

One that was focused on the much larger issue of how to rehabilitate infrastructure such as lanes and roads, though the conversation came with a warning from Councillor Barry Cunningham of fears of some unanticipated consequences ...

"We're opening up a can of worms here, if you want to stop people using something because it has a few potholes in it ... I won't even go there, there are other streets that aren't maintained by us either and people have been asking us to maintain them for years"

The prospect of taking a request for cost sharing on some select infrastructure themes to residential owners, who would be asked to carry roughly half the burden of such things was introduced by City Manager Robert Long, who outlined how such a request might work some day down the line.

"Many municipalities have something called the Local Improvements and we've talked to council about  this on a number of occasions, where, where the neighbourhood gets together and says I'm sick and tired  of these potholes, lets get together and lets pave the laneway and we'll put it on our taxes, in that location for say twenty years. We'll ask for the municipality to chip in a share, usually that share in most municipalities I've worked in is fifty percent. So the general taxpayer pays for fifty percent of the improvements

The concept of local improvement is to identify all of those people that benefit from the improvement and ask them to pay, make a contribution, usually on their taxes over usually a twenty year period which really means we can do an awful big improvement to a laneway with a lot of money ... and the contribution in your taxes would be quite low. And if the city chips in you know a percentage within our roads budget, then what you have is the general tax payers contributing, the you have all those beneficial property owners which are adjacent to it. 

Then what happens then is they get to vote as to whether they like this idea or not, there needs to be majority ... and that's usually how these things are done ... It's a well used methodology for making improvements on laneways and in fact a number of other improvements can take place in subdivisions where the roads maybe are falling apart and the city just doesn't have the budget to pay the full shot and so we're all in this together with the neighbourhood who would benefit"

The topic was something that Mayor Lee Brain indicated was one which Council should start a conversation with residents on, though when that conversation will get underway wasn't put down as part of any timeline on the evening.

The other bit of information that might come as a bit of a surprise to residents  was Council's review of how the annual paving program works, which  in recent years is one that is seemingly more of a roads triage program, than and kind of year to year reconstruction plan.

The details of how the Operations Department approaches the years paving, which is funded mostly through Federal transfers of the Gas Tax was provided by the Operations Manager Richard Pucci.

"Unfortunately, we're really only looking one year in advance, we know right now what we're doing for this year, we're scoping out trouble areas for next year, but we can't advance it any further than that. A lot of it depends on where we have major breaks, and other issues; road rehabilitation to try and leverage some of the funds to do these works. And we always  try and spread the paving throughout the community as best we can on the east and west side. And we tried to do it again this year the best we can and we do have a decent spread. But areas just seem to pop up right after winter, around right now and they just show themselves and we have to deal with them.

 "Yeah, that is correct, we have to look at the where the money, there isn't a lot of money as council is aware and the community is aware, so we have to look at where the best place to put that money is. So if we're planning to do a major capital improvement with a road rehabilitation, it's best to save that money and renew a whole street at once ... and then put that capital towards sewer, water, roads, sidewalks curb and gutter and get a whole new infrastructure out of it that will last a lot longer. You know, no one likes  to see fresh asphalt cut up because we have a water leak directly underneath it. That's not what we want to do that's not what we intend to do, but unfortunately it sometimes happened with the state of our infrastructure."

The blue print of road remediation for 2021 was outlined in May and as Mr. Pucci noted in his presentation to Council there is a pretty equal split between East and West on the McBride Street divide.

The City's paving plans for 2021
(From the BC Bid submission)

Still with the whack a mole approach to road work it would seem that is guaranteed to leave many areas of the city that need attention to go untouched other than a few patches here and there. 

Which would explain why it seems that the roads only get worse and worse each year and leave many residents concerned that their street seems to be the one that is always skipped over, while they wonder where it is exactly that their taxes actually go.

Those two elements of this weeks Council session together, along with what were frequent mentions of other financial challenges that the city has seen coming out of the post pulp mill times economic downturn made for the city's narrative for the night. 

Though it probably is safe to suggest that if City Council is going to come knocking on doors to talk about shared burdens around the neighbourhood they had better be prepared to answer some questions and defend a good portion of the way they allocate their spending plans each year.

While the roads have continued to show their age and potholes make for navigation hazards, the city has continued on with an investment approach that has seen them spend significant sums on Watson Island remediation and rebranding, acquire property to create land packages around the city, as well as to become landlords of warehouse space.

The Council members have made much use of the Legacy Inc fund from the long abandoned Esso LNG proposal which they inherited from a previous period of time and allocates some of those funds for a range of internal and external projects, vision plans, staffing themes and other areas we perhaps have not heard of. 

None of it was done with much of an update for the community at the time as to how they planned to use that funding; nor have there been any extensive updates since as to how much they are spending towards those items on the growing to do lists through Legacy. 

As well, Council members rarely speak towards any information related to any revenues they may be receiving from their various enterprises and if the returns on those investments have delivered as expected.

To their credit they have chased down shared funding for much of their infrastructure planning, though sometimes their decisions on priorities as to which ones to chase down seem curious. Featuring items that for some perhaps should not be at the top of the list for what is needed in infrastructure. 

The prospect of building a new Ferry dock for the Airport Ferry at the Kwinitsa Station area comes to mind, considering that the airport receives just one flight a day, that is when we have air service. 

Likewise the additional cost of hydro generation for the water dam, without any indication that the power that could be generated will go anywhere was a curious decision of the time. Which reminds us that perhaps an update on the progress of the Woodworth Dam project might be a timely conversation piece for the moment.

Soon will arrive a recycling program which will see residents required to purchase their garbage/recycling cans from the city, that as part of a home pick up launch for recycling; something residents have indicated that they wanted, though they may have also wished to have be consulted as to how it would work and what it will cost.

Our notes of the week did seem to resonate with our readers and generated some comments which you can see at the bottom of each article.  

We also received other comments that we could not put forward to the published status owing to a number of reasons available for review from our guidelines for commentary, though suffice to say they weren't an endorsement of additional financial asks of the taxpayer.

When it comes to providing for civic services by a municipal government, most residents probably don't have too large a list of what they consider essential ventures to be involved in, and many probably have no desire to be land barons or industrial investors. 

Most more than likely just assumed that their annual taxes went to such mundane but essential items as roads to drive on and for some, water to drink without having to boil it.

Two Areas which at the moment, the City is coming up short on ...

When the time comes for that conversation on yet another added element of cost sharing between residents and the city, the Council members would be wise to bring some financial statements, charts and extensive notes on how they have spent what they have on hand and what they take in each year at tax time.

It would be a welcome change to be fully informed on the past level of spending, before they ask their constituents to pony up even more. 

For a look back at Monday's Council session see our Council Timeline here.

A wider overview of past Council discussions can be explored from our archive page.


  1. The city never asks or gives much for costing on the projects they take on, council doesn't push for information. Take our new garbage/recycle truck. When the truck was ordered the maoyr stated the dual purpose truck would give the city the option of curbside recycling. That was about all that was said until the question came up on how to pay for the new bins.

    This new program comes at a cost to the city and the taxpayers that are going to be billed additional money for the new garbage cans the city is giving them. The apartments in the town get a by on the new program. Why? How much extra money will the city spend initiating the program. Enforcement of the program?

    The waterfront development is not going to be cheap. The city will say grant monies will be used but we will have to match funds that we apparently don't have. If you have a lane phone or e-mail a councilor and let them know you want stuff properly costed and no new projects until the laneway behind your house is considered as part of city infastructure and not just one more tax grab.

  2. I really hope the election next year brings about some change. I don't know if I can handle another term of Captain Dialogue and the Talkateers.

    City Hall needs to execute on the essentials.

    - Roads,
    - year to year planning really? no long range roadwork plan?
    - you admit that laneways were never thought of?
    - You have the audacity to propose that residents pay a premium
    for the mundane basics of civic infrastructure?

    - Water,
    - I get that I have to wait until 2023 now (8+ year project)
    for all the shiny new water infrastructure. But can't you at
    least tell us where we are on boil water advisories? I lost
    track at 200+ days, and I see nothing from city hall on
    current testing results. Be up front with residents, don't
    make us go search for it and shame you afterwards.

  3. This article sparked a very interesting convo in my office today which can be summarized with a question: why is this blog so pessimistic and negative all the time?

    the current roads budget is nowhere near enough to make up for 20+ years of underfunding, yet at least these guys doubled the budget are doing twice as much as the last guys.

    do you seriously expect the city to turn down 10+ million in grants for waterfront development from the province? by your logic, not until all our roads are fixed will we consider improving the worst airport access in the industrialized world. until our paving program catches up, no need to create new public waterfront access in a coastal town without hardly any.

    by your backwards logic, why plan for a sustainable energy future when we can be more cost-effectively unsustainable today?

    by your pessimistic logic, even though our city is already a decade or more late to the game, lets delay curbside recycling until people can choose their desired paint colours for their bins.

    by the way it's easy to take cheap shots about the water situation when you neglect to mention the years of ongoing work and tens of millions in grants to replace the entire system.

    a 'welcome change' would be this blog finally admitting that the problems of this city today are inherited from decades of neglect and poor planning

    1. I would gladly take a 10 million dollar grant and match it it if it was for something the city needs,like maybe road building. The mayor has mentioned this proposed dock as a destination for visitors. To want to visit here the city has to be appealling not just a a dock with a bar / restaurant.

      The perception that spending a very large amount of money on this dock because we got a grant is pardon me, nuts. Have a look around at the city. Spend more wisely to benifit the taxpayers. Most taxpaxers use the roads one way or another. I do know many people comlaining to me they need a dock.

    2. Well, glad that the item sparked a convo at the office, as it seems to have done here in the comments section, as the main purpose of the blog is to spark some conversation on municipal and provincial themes.

      I did note of a rather structured approach to the commentary, almost as though it were from a behind closed door session or workshop at City Hall, some good inside baseball as they say ... regardless of where it took place, do hope it was during a coffee break or at lunch.

      Many of your points seem to have been addressed already in this comments section by others

      But on the airport, I think you have missed the theme there, the issue for the airport isn't so much the risk of getting stuck behind a train (something a call to CN or the Port could resolve) but more the fact that with only one flight a day (when in service) the need for more flights and more airlines probably is key to the competition with Terrace, something most likely to see the use of remain weighted towards that airport until more options are available here..

      The rest of the development seems nice, though the CN station may not be more of a challenge than the City may wish to take on, hope to hear more from their report on that.

      As for the energy producing water dam, last I heard BC Hydro wasn't taking new Independent Power options, so where and when will all that power have somewhere to go?

      Putting aside the somewhat condescending comment on colour of recycling cans, again I think you missed the point, it's not the colour of the cans more the roll out of the project and the purchase plan for cans that probably deliver some feedback to Council.

      You clearly are a reader of the blog, so you most likely are aware that there has been much coverage of the many infrastructure challenges not only for this Council but those before it over the last decade and before from our previous blog.

      And since we're on the topic of the ongoing work, lets not forget that some of municipal planning took place from previous administrations and in fact the foundation for much of the current spending and grant seeking of this council came through the creation of Legacy Inc by the previous one, so hopefully the entire list of past and present council members get an invite to all the ribbon cutting ceremonies.

      On the water situation you call it a cheap shot, but you know, for those that are still boiling their water (not that we hear many reminders from the city of the need to do so) hearing an update on how the dam is coming along might be nice, you now timeline for completion and cost to the public etc ...

      In fact, if the City wanted to be proactive and in service to the community, they probably would take a page from the Gitmaxmak'ay Nisga'a and set up a water distribution system such as they do for those in the community who may not have the financial resources for fancy filtration home units and week after week of bottled water purchases, you know helping out those most in need in a basic civic service of water delivery.

      To wrap this up, you made note of this story which explores how the Council priorities may not be the same as the residents who elected them, but there was much more to review from Monday, which so far seems to be the only coverage that Council has received,
      In fact so far from what I've seen of other local sources you would never even know that there had been a council session...

      Catch up on those notes here

      Thanks again for dropping a line, it does serve to spark a convo on Council which more folks in town should join in on


  4. this is an incredibly assanine line of criticism.

    the kwinitza project improves public waterfront access, makes airport access a heck of a lot more appealing, revitalizes a decrepid old building, brings in more tourists to spend at local businesses, advances a relationship with a first nations partner, and all on the dime of John Horgan instead of local taxpayers.

    you need to try again (and much harder) if you want to land a real punch on the mayor

    1. The city bought the decrepid building with taxpayer dollars. Their plan near as I can determine is to go into the commercial lease of the building once finished. Have you seen the business plan for this. Would a bank finace it? I doubt it will recoup the monies invested in the building. That is not the job of the city commercial development and space leasing.

      As for airport access being a lot more appealing, you are still going to be stuck on the buses. I have never been bothered by the ferry ramp (can't even see it from the bus). It is the ferry trip and the time it takes that makes the airport access unappealing. Make the roads and the city more appealling. This town has derelict cars, buildings and properties everywhere. The condition of the roads atrocious with the piping underneath as bad. Earlier you stated there has been 20 plus years of neglect the mayor inherited. The mayor has now been in the chair close to seven years. I would say the state of the city has gotten worse under his tenure. Some of the blame rests at his feet.

      Most grant monies have to be matched the taxpayers have a right to know the costs up front. There doesn't seem to be a plan to inform the taxpayers of any costs. Just keep saying grants.

  5. If I can throw my two cents in, an expansion of the industrial park would create much more revenue for the city then the CN building and a airport ferry dock. Industrial land taxation is high.

    There is a shortage of industrial space. Companies can't expand or move here with no land for their business.