The first Prince Rupert Council meeting for March provided for a range of items of interest, from housing themes to contract awards and of some significance, how the city's financial picture is shaping up and what the 2022 City Budget may look like.
That preview courtesy of the City's Chief Financial Officer and Deputy City Manager, Corrine Bomben who provided the first glance at how the budget process will work this Spring as well as a look at what the potential tax burden to residents could be.
The evening also featured review of a number of Development Variance permit requests from the planning office, as well as some extensive and spirited discussion on how to move forward with the city's renoviction bylaw plans.
Richard Pucci, the city's Operations Director also provided for a pair of reports on current projects and a contract award for a Master Service agreement with a locally based contractor group.
Some background on the work of Council for the night can be review from the Regular Agenda Package for the March 14th session.
Council also hosted a Closed Meeting, making for the fifth of the in camera sessions for 2022.
The details related to the reasons for the behind closed door gathering can be reviewed here.
As noted above, Monday also brought a Special Committee of the Whole the Agenda notes for that element can be reviewed here.
Further information from our overview and placement in the video archives can be fond below, with the permanent record of the council minutes added as they are posted to the city website.
Council proceedings have now returned to in person sessions at City Hall.
In attendance Monday, March 14, 2022
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
The City has yet to post the Video of Monday's Council session, which includes the Budget presentation and its range of visual themes, once they have posted the Account of the Council meeting we will add it to this article to allow for reference for readers.
The Video of the session was posted to the YouTube archive on March 23rd.
Video Archive for Monday, March 14, 2022
Committee of the Whole Session
( 0:00 -- 1:00 ) Committee of the Whole Session for Monday, March 14, 2022
Mayor Lee Brain called the session to order, adopting the Agenda for the session, along with the statement of the Chair which explained the Committee process.
( 1:00 -- 26:00 ) Ms. Corinne Bomben, the City's Chief Financial Officer and Deputy City Manager Presentation of the 2022 Budget process.
Ms. Bomben commenced with her presentation with a reminder that no final decision would be made until after the public consultation period was complete and the city received had the final assessment totals from BC Assessment.
The first segment of her presenation provided a review of the services that the City offers to the community and a note of the scope of the employment offered by the city, with 175 full time and nearly 100 casual employees.
The overview then explained how the various funds, the three utility funds, and operating fund all work.
The CFO highlighted the January assessment on residential properties that had seen an increased for most of 31 percent and how that impacts on the calculation of taxes towards the Operating Fund.
The contractual requirements of the 2022 budget made for a short overview to explain how those elements contribute to the Budget process.
She noted that Wages, benefits and Work Safe Premium requirements have been offset by savings on capital spending previously funded by taxation in 2021 as well as net new taxation from new builds and fee increases. As well, the CFO observed that the city will continue to make use of COVID related funding for impacts on those departments still affected by the pandemic such as the Airport Ferry.
She observed how the Paving Program will continue to remain at the same level as 2021 and that utility rates increases have covered budgeted operation increases for those services.
A review of Capital projects included a change towards the RCMP Detachment plans, notes on the Woodworth Dam project, as well as an issue at the new landfill site which will require $529,000 from reserves to repair a tear to the new cell line damaged during a storm in the fall of 2021.
As for new Capital requests for 2022, Bomben outlined three initiatives to move forward in 2022. Included on the list was the first public mention of the City's plans towards the leasehold upgrades to the MacCarthy Dealership on Portage Avenue, that structure apparently to be used for the City's Public Works Crews, the asset cost is $750,000 and it will be funded through Dividend.
Roof improvements for the Canfisco Warehouse property will require an estimated 150,000 dollars funded through Dividend. While a project related to the Third Avenue and Fulton Streetlights will be funded through 50,000 dollars from dividend.
A Special Project from December. known as the Survey Benchmarks and right of ways was removed from the Budget.
Three new special projects were introduced for 2022, Downtown Revitalization and Asset Management the project cost of 150,000 will be funded by Dividend.
The 2022 Municipal Election process will be funded at 40,000 funded through taxation.
The last of the special project items was momentum for the Situation Tables initiative to be funded by a 43,000 dollar grant.
The First New operating fund item is the staffing addition to the Fire Department, something which the CFO did not expand on and will cost 430,000 Dollars funded through taxation.
The Public Works occupancy lease will cost 310,000 dollars funded through taxation.
The RCMP contract increase of 380,000 dollars will be funded through taxation.
The new 24 hour public washroom maintenance costs will come to 30,000 dollars funded through taxation
As well, a transfer of 400,000 dollars to capital reserves will be done through taxation.
How the city could pay for all of those elements if approved by Council and balance the proposed budget will require a mill rate increase of 3.63 percent.
Ms Bomben then provided a short tutorial in how the assessment from January will deliver some increases in municipal bills for some homeowners.
As part of her presentation she highlighted how the city has managed to not have tax increase of more than .5 years over the last seven years, as well as to how there has been a residential mill rate drop since 2014.
To bring her presentation to a close, the CFO highlighted some of the programs available to the public to assist in their property tax requirements of July 4th, noting how to learn more on those options.
Ms. Bomben observed as to how the documentation is now available at the library, city hall and online on the city website, as well she outlined the Budget Simulation program to allow residents to learn more about budget making and provides those who use it to create their own budget to explore what goes into the process.
The Budget simulation program will be available to the public until Tuesday, April 12th.
Other ways to provide feedback on the budget include by email, by phone and mail, or by attending two public consultation sessions as part of the City Council sessions on March 28th and April 11th.
Councillor Cunningham had one question, asking for an explanation related to the three major industries and why caps are in place and what impacts they have. Ms. Bomben noted of the Port Property Tax Act and how it impacts on the city's finances, as well she noted how with the AltaGas and Pembina facilities the city does have opportunity to set their taxation rate as they do for all other property tax classes.
Councillor Mirau followed up on that theme on the Port properties, asking as to what the net impact of the depreciated Port values, which Ms. Bomben noted would be a 23,000 dollar loss to the city.
Councillor Adey asked as to how it is determined that one item would be funded by reserves or surplus and others through taxation.
Ms. Bomben outlined how the reserves and surpluses are directed towards capital items or one time items and some have statutory requirements as to what they can be used for. She observed that taxation is typically the last resort towards funding Operations, listing off some of the other elements that they can use before making use of taxation.
She answered a follow up question from the Councillor on flexibility when it comes to financial resources, by noting that there is no flexibility in adjusting or moving resources for Operating funds.
Mayor Brain asked what kind of timeline the city is on towards finalizing its budget, with Ms. Bomben noting that it must be adopted by May 13th year, noting how staff would like to give residents enough time to calculate what the taxation burden may be to them.
Mr. Brain then recapped the themes of the night and how the next process is to hear from the public with a more complete picture then to be in place prior to Council discussing what priorities they may have in mind for the 2022 Budget.
Ms. Bomben also reinforced the call for the public to participate in the process to allow council to make the best decision possible for the community.
City Manager Rob Buchan asked one question of the CFO, related to what the cost of living increase this year and how the budget compares to that.
In reply Ms. Bomben noted the the inflation rate was 3.4 report and that the proposed tax increase was 3.63 percent, the Mayor adding how that was in line with cost of living increases.
With that the Mayor Adjourned the session and moved on to the Regular Council Session.
Regular Council Session
( 26:00 -- 27:30) Regular Council Session for Monday, March 14, 2022
Mayor Lee Brain called the session to offer, adopting the past minutes and Agenda for the evening's session, with the addition of one item for the night,.
( 27:00 -- 27:30 ) Report from Planning Report on Development Variance Permit for a property at 1429 Overlook Street -- Council voted to proceed with approval with no discussion (See page 21 of the Agenda for background)
( 27:30 -- 28:00 ) Report from Planning Report on Development Variance Permit for CBC Offices on Third Avenue West -- Council voted to proceed with approval with no discussion (See page 27 of the Agenda for background)
( 28:00 -- 34:00 ) Report from Planning Report on Development Variance Permit for a property at 1531 Atlin Avenue -- City Staff provided some detail towards the three variances requested towards a proposed build of a single family home on vacant lot. Council Niesh offered up some comments of concern, related to the height variance requested and the additional space that would bring, identifying how it may be a slippery slope for Council to go down. Councillor Cunningham concurred with the opinions of Mr. Niesh and noted how the neighbourhood would have a chance to share their thoughts. Council voted to proceed with the statutory public notification. (See page 31 of the Agenda for background)
( 34:00 -- 36:00 ) Report from Planning Report on Development Variance Permit for a property at 11th Street -- City Staff outlined the scope of the variance request to repair an existing deck. Council members had no questions and voted to proceed to statutory notification. (See page 47 of the Agenda for background)
( 36:00 -- 38:00 ) Report from Planning Report on Development Variance Permit for a property at 1444 Second Avenue West -- City Staff outlined the scope of the variance request to allow for a deck. Councillor Cunningham made note of the work taking place on the property and expressed how he was impressed and in support. Council then voted to proceed to statutory notification. (See page 55 of the Agenda for background)
( 38:00 -- 39:00 ) Report from Planning Report on Development Variance Permit for a property at 337 McBride Street -- City Staff outlined the scope of the variance request to allow for a new LED backlit roof sign on the roof line of Sannich Plumbing and Heating. Councillor Cunningham noted how he thought it would be an improvement for a visual look on McBride, with the Mayor also offering an observation. Council then voted to proceed to statutory notification (See page 60 of the Agenda for background)
( 39:00 -- 42:00 ) Report from Director of Operations - Monthly Project Update -- Operations Director Richard Pucci provided a read through of the check list of the range of projects underway or recently completely. Of note was the completion of the Eat Street site on Third West and an audit on the recently launched Curbside Recycling program. Councillor Cunningham had a question related to the Sewer treatment program, relaying some concerns from residents from the Omenica area. It was recommended that those residents should contact city staff to ask any questions related to that. Mr. Pucci also noted that there have been some further setbacks on the Woodworth Dam project, with the city now projecting the end of May as a completion date. (See page 63 of the Agenda for background)
( 42:00 -- 43:30 ) Report from Director of Operations - Master Service Agreement contract award -- Mr. Pucci noted that he had nothing else to add to his written report and recommended the awarding of the contract to CT Northern Contractors Alliance partnership. The Council members had no comments or questions related to the contract award. Council then approved the award to the proponent recommended by staff.(See page 68 of the Agenda for background)
( 43:30 -- 44:00 ) Report from the Corporate Administrator Past Council Resolutions -- Ms. Rosa Miller related that there was nothing to add to the written report. (Seek page 70 of the Agenda for background)
( 44:00 -- 44:30 ) Report from Corporate Administrator - Recent ratification from Committee of the Whole -- Ms. Miller noted that the item should be struck from the record.
( 44:30 -- 45:30 ) Report from Planning - An additional item related to a variance for a property on 7th Avenue East -- City Manager Rob Buchan noted that it was an item that was before council one month ago, advising that notices had gone out and it was available for approval now. Council then voted to adopt the motion without discussion.
( 45:30 -- 51:30 ) Report from Planning - Rezoning of Property -- Council explored the merits of the proposed rezoning for a property on Portage road. Staff outlined the nature of the rezoning request that would take the property out of its current designation of residential to industrial. The use would be for a workshop and light industrial. Towards discussion, Councillor Niesh questioned if there was a need for a public hearing considering the use of the property as a church and how it is in an industrial area with industrial buildings on site. Councillor Mirau also spoke to the topic noting that he was in favour of a public hearing considering a past rezoning situation on a property across the street. He followed up on that by noting of a covenant of a property in the past related to noise on an adjacent property to the nearby Oasis apartments. Councillor Niesh provided some background to that issue of concern. Council then voted to move the process to public notification. (See page 71 of the Agenda for background)
( 51:30 -- 1:32:00 ) Business Regulations and Licensing Bylaw No. 3476, 2021 -- Corporate Administrator Rosa Miller provided some background on past questions raised in February related to the notification in accordance to the Residential Tenancy Act. She also clarified some notes on how the proposed bylaw was over and above some elements of the Act.
Mayor Brain then outlined some of the concerns for a single family homeowner, who would be impacted by some elements of the bylaw and who would have to cover accommodation costs for their tenant during a time of renovation. The Mayor observing how that may be a step too far and how an amendment may be required in that instance.
That proved to be a discussion for much debate.
Councillor Niesh concurred with the Mayor on his observations, for his part Councillor Cunningham did agree with the mayor's comments but then outlined how he still has concerns over single family rentals.
The Councillor observing how there is still hesitation for tenants to complain about the living conditions simply because there is nowhere else for them to go.
Mr. Cunningham asked that the there should be no exemption for single family dwellings, but that there could be an amendment that the landlord is not responsible for finding alternative accommodation for a renovation.
The Mayor asked for some clarification on the city bylaw plan from the City manager, with Mr. Buchan observing as to how the bylaw would bring in a standard of maintenance to ensure that the city has an ability to act on bad landlords and rental accommodations that don't measure up to appropriate standards, with the bylaw one which would be complaint driven.
He did observe that there is the possibility of an unintended consequence of the bylaw licensing in that some people may not want to be licensed and they would withdraw their stock from the rental supply. He also observed as to the additional staff requirements and enforcement that would be needed which he observed would be a significant effort, which the city could take on if required.
He also outlined how the amendment process would work if Council wished to waive the need for accommodation assistance for the single home renters.
The Mayor observed how in effect the result of any registration plan would see the City possibly become their own Residential Tenancy Branch with its own data base and would be in charge of enforcement.
Mr. Buchan outlined that with the proposal at the moment, the city would be able to step in once a complaint was made and provide enforcement of the bylaw standard to ensure that the suite is brought up to standard. He observed that the approach would be to put information on tenant rights out on the city website, in cooperation with Paul Legace from the Prince Rupert unemployment Action Centre.
The Mayor taking from that, with a complaint driven process, the need for a blanket licensing system and added layer of bureaucracy would not be required.
Mr. Buchan observed that if the city was to enter into the inspection service, it would have resource implications on the City Budget, the Mayor noting how over a long term the City will require additional staff to be dedicated to housing, noting how at the moment as a small city Prince Rupert is not equipped for that now.
Mr. Brain then suggested that it could be a Strategic plan item for debate at next years budget time to determine what implications and cost would be to taking on the additional overview of the program.
Those observation sparked some further significant debate as to whether the City should be running a parallel service to that of the province.
Councillor Cunningham again highlighted how the complaint driven process isn't working already in bylaw matters, noting how even when people complain nothing seems to happen as far as enforcement, noting how the current state of bylaw enforcement is pathetic because it's complaint driven.
He also shared more observations on the current housing situation and explained that the bylaw should be something to protect the renters and by leaving out the largest part of the rental market the city is not helping the renters.
Councillor Mirau joined the discussion and observed that there should be an easy agreement available, which is to add the Residential Tenancy Branch Notification Process and the exemption for single family dwelling as an amendment to the Bylaw.
That motion was then accepted and the bylaw amended.
Returning to the discussion on Councillor Cunningham's concerns, Mr. Mirau observed as to how it was a controversial concept and one that was somewhat unworkable. He also noted how the city's bylaw provides all the standards and protections required for renters.
He added that the main objective for the city should be to protect the people who are afraid to complain and incentivize good behaviour from landlords and penalize the bad behaviour for those who not doing what's required.
He highlighted how he saw a problem towards registration of all single family dwellings with rentals, in that the bad actors will not pay the fees anyways and it would still have to be complaint driven, adding how it was more important to have something on the books that can actually enforce maintenance standards and building renovations.
He also outlined how it would be completely unprecedented for a city to go and raise taxes to not just duplicate what the province is doing, but to go beyond what the Residential Tenancy Branch provides for.
Mr. Mirau also expressed caution at the idea of adding significant amount of cost and paperwork not just for staff, but for the single family residence property owners.
Councillor Adey joined the conversation first posing a question as to how the city would know where the properties are, if there is no registration required and how would the city know how many people are renting basement suites and how standards are being met.
Mr. Buchan observed that the city would learn of that on the basis of complaint, he noted that it would be a different matter to undertake inventories and build a system but that it would be resource intensive and if done this year it would require an amendment to the proposed city budget.
The councillor then observed that there is a need to make the complaint driven process work a little better, adding that he wasn't quite willing to go as far in terms of criticizing the people who do the work and who respond to complaints. Noting of the workload that they have and the limited numbers of them towards that work.
He suggested there is a need for a much less intimidating process in place for those that have a concern, particularly for those in a position of need with few options, something which he noted creates that reluctance to complain.
The City Manager again noted of the proposal to inform the public through the city website and to make use of Mr. Legace and Mr. Nagy to use their outreach program towards informing and assisting the public.
Mayor Brain then noted how there could be a partnership between the city and the Unemployed Action Centre towards the complaint process where there would be anonymity for renters which could then be referred to the City for enforcement.
Picking up on the theme of enforcement, Mr. Brain noted that the city has a complaint driven process because the city has never chosen to budget for enforcement, noting of the list of other budgetary requirements that the city has to attend towards.
He also observed of the proposed 3 per cent tax increase for 2022 from the Finance office and how that will generate opinion in the community, let alone any additional funding required for any enforcement, observing that the city currently has two bylaw positions in place, one vacant and yet to be filled.
Mr Brain recounted some of the challenges that could come from an enforcement model that a future council would have to deal with towards a long term process, noting of the more immediate competing priorities at the moment.
He also cautioned at adding another level of bureaucracy and remained Council how the provincial government is in change of housing, pointing to the city's bylaw as a forward thinking proposal and one that has gone further than most communities towards protecting people.
Towards the immediate need Mayor Brain suggested that Councillor Mirau's amendment offered the best path ahead towards some action .
Councillor Cunningham noted he had no problem supporting the initiative, as it was better than nothing, but again reiterated his concerns that it leaves a lot of people unprotected. He pointed to the the burden on staff at the moment towards preparing a study as to what a program will cost, but that in the future he would like to see a study to explore what more the city could do.
Mr. Buchan suggested that the concept be put forward as part of strategic planning for 2023.
Councillor Skelton-Morven agreed with the motion as proposed by Mr. Mirau, though also shared Councillor Cunningham's concerns towards renters.
Mr. Mirau then noted that the province needs to step up, observing how every small community is picking up the pieces of their jurisdiction that are not being looked after in rural and remote communities.
He once again expressed his concerns over the difficulties he sees in having a registration program in place and how it could create more challenges for the city. Adding he would prefer to have that debate as part of strategic planning at a future date.
Councillor Randhawa also spoke to the motion, concurring with some of the Councillor Mirau's themes.
Councillor Niesh also noted how if the registration plan was put in place it would more than likely reduce the amount of housing options in the community, whether legal or illegal. Observing that by enforcing too much, the city may in the end be creating a larger problem in the rental area.
With one final anecdote from Councillor Adey the discussion came to an end with the amendment from Councillor Mirau adopted, with Council moving the initiative forward towards final approval at the next Council session. (See page 77 of the Agenda for background)
Questions, Comments, Reports or Inquiries from Council
( 1:32:00--1:36:00 ) Councillor Cunningham led off the discussion by noting of the situation related to the purchase of plaques for the Memorial wall intiatitve, a program which has been suspended. Ms. Miller observed that the program is currently under review and if people have a request for a plaque they can call City Hall to be added to a list in the future.
The Mayor followed up by asking what the issue with the program was, he was advised that it was a case of a need for more space and how the city was running out of room, with the review to determine the next steps for it.
Councillor Cunningham also asked for the city to advocate on behalf of the boats that use the Fairview Floats amid concerns over potential relocation for some in that area owing to expansion plans in that area. He noted how the boats there are large and have few options, reminding council of their historical importance in the city's economy through the fishery. The Mayor concurred with the request from Mr. Cunningham to forward a letter to the Port Edward Harbour Authority towards the concerns.
Councillor Adey, provided his thanks to AFFNO for their cultural event of the weekend at the Civic Centre through the recent Sugar Shack and how it marked a reincarnation of an event that had been put on pause owing to COVID.
Councillor Randhawa returned to a familiar theme, asking about the status of pothole repair in the city, Mr. Buchan observed that staff would have to check with operations to learn as to the status of that work.
And with that the March 14th Council Session came to an end.
You can access our Council Session page here, where a number of items regarding the Council Session, including links to local media coverage can 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 March 14, 2022 (not available yet)
The Next Session for Prince Rupert City Council is set for Monday, March 28, 2022.