Monday, July 4, 2022

State of the City: Some Facts , Some Fun themes ... Some omissions from the narrative

The main focus for Mayor Brain's State of the City address from June 28th was, as might have been anticipated, one that leaned heavily on positives and the prospect of fulfilment of the Mayor and council's many ambitions for the future. 

The event at times had the feel of evangelical spirt, featuring the liturgy of the night culled from the body of the Mayor's work over the last eight years. The State of the City session, one of his last opportunities to review his work  before he steps out of the municipal spotlight this fall.

As we outlined on Thursday, the Mayor's review was much the same as the Rupert 2030 vision review, with many of the same frustrations on the challenges facing the city today, particularly in the area of infrastructure, most of them familiar notes from past State of the City events. 

More than a few of them still seemingly current today, as they were in 2014.

Many of those challenges and frustrations for the Mayor and Council coming it seems from outside forces and unanticipated situations. With no second guessing on the night towards any local decision making by Council during their term of office noted by the Mayor over the two hours.

For those who follow our blog and its focus on City council, much of the June 28th material as it was presented has been covered in the past through our Council Discussion archives.

However, for those that don't follow Council with much interest,  or only learn of developments through the public events such as the State of the City Presentation, this years finale for the mayor would have been quite the revelation.

The success found on some of the infrastructure concerns gained much attention and was welcome, though a few elements of the path towards that success amidst some challenges, were side stepped in the overview towards the completion of some of the To Do list from eight years ago.

Two items, both the Water Dam Construction and Landfill Expansion projects have reached the finish line a bit beyond their original completion date; as well as with some additional financial resources required for them.  

The talking points for those were areas that could have made for a much fuller narrative.

An extensive overview of the Housing situation provided for some new items towards the lack of action for family home building. Particularly as it relates to Muskeg, a topic of some passion for councillor Wade Niesh, with the City now finally set to act on the issue identified a few years back. 

That solution, is one of developing serviceable land and disposing of the muskeg. 

Though, not part of the discussion, was an explanation as to why it has taken so long to develop that solution, considering that the lack of land  for development is a  considered to be a key concern as to  how City Council views our  housing woes.

Also something that could have helped to better understand the lack of movement on housing, would have been an explanation as to why areas such as the Kanata school lands, or the area just off of Park near BC Ferries remain undeveloped.  Both long after the first housing proposals were outlined a number of years ago for both locations.

The Mayor did provide an extensive look at the challenges and the importance of developing housing, and particularly as to how it will be vital when it comes to further Port and other industrial development.

Mr. Brain highlighted Council's success in shepherding approval of a few projects that should help the situation somewhat.  Included on that list those housing plans for  BC Housing and Lax Kw'alaams.

Another area of note from the session was the city's roads concerns. 

A topic which was well documented by Mayor Brain, though if a full scale rebuild of the roads is required as the Mayor noted, there has been little progress apparent made towards a start for that action goal. 

And we're not sure how residents in such areas as Crestview and Overlook, two areas cited by the mayor in his presentation, are going to feel about the prospect of never seeing a paving crew until a full scale road rebuild takes place.

"Overlook Street alone is a ten million dollar rebuild, there's no point in paving that road  it needs to be completely redone, ten million dollars  ... Crestview that's another road, that area all hog fuel same issue, millions of dollars. 

People say to me, when you gonna do that road? 

Well that's not going to be part of the paving budget, I'm sorry, but it's just not."

It may also take a pretty self assured candidate for council this fall to state the same, which probably is not the answer residents will want to hear.

The Watson Island overview was a welcome account of how Council views the industrial site and how they can use it, though they rarely speak of the place in the public Council sessions through the year.

While the background as to  how the city uses lease payments to assist with infrastructure is a good use of what revenues they received; the overview from the Mayor did not outline how much the city has invested in the reclamation project for the site and when they anticipate that those expenses would be off the books. 

So it's hard to tell just how the project and plans or Watson Island are progressing and if as the Council believes they have turned a burden into an opportunity.

Not included in the Mayor's notes was an update on the Pembina operations, the Alberta company having recently  decided to put any expansion plans on the shelf. 

Nor was there a review of what other companies are on site now, how many sites remain vacant and what kind of interest, if any, is out there for the industrial site.

Likewise there, was no outline as to how any future reclamation work on the Island  to expand its footprint would proceed and where that funding may come from.

On Watson, the Mayor called for patience of residents as the former pulp mill site blue print evolves.

"So, what I'm asking from the community right now is some patience basically, I hope you're seeing the building blocks coming together, how it all kind of fits ... See the forest I guess what I'm saying from just seeing the trees"

That moves us into the Legacy Corp portion of the evening's presentation, which again was a helpful snapshot of what that financial instrument is all about. 

Legacy Corporation is another area where Council does not discuss its use of the mechanism often in public session, if at all. 

Mostly we hear occasional mention that funding from it is being used to assist with infrastructure, a good use for the funds that few would quarrel with.

The Mayor noted that the Legacy statements are published  on the city website, but you have to dig for them, the actual page related to Legacy on the website  is somewhat sparse in information and/or documentation and rarely sees an update.

And without updated information and presentations on Legacy, residents still really do not know how the fund operates and how it has been used.  

Among areas not in the overview, whether some of the items that Council has chosen to use the funds on were considered vital, or if that money used at Council's discretion, could have been put towards a different direction to some of the many outstanding infrastructure themes.

The Mayor's conversation on Legacy also provided one quote on the night ( in a night of many quotes ) that should catch the attention of residents and maybe raise a few eyebrows. 

That in relation to some comments in the community of a lack of transparency in how Council has handled its Legacy themes.

"So if it means you know some people questioning transparency versus saving the town, well, I'll choose saving the town over that"

And while he was referencing Legacy, it could perhaps be repeated as a valid positioning statement for Council on a few other areas from the Vision Planning list since the 2019 release of the vast Civic rebirth. 

Whether it be infrastructure investments, land arrangements and asset purchases, or development of such areas as the waterfront and newly created downtown area districts, the flow of information at times has been lacking.

Putting the hyperbole aside, since the Mayor is stepping aside, he won't have to defend that statement as part of a campaign for office, unless he makes a return to political life some day. 

However,  it will be curious if those currently on Council and considering another run for a seat at the table this fall, share that personal declaration on transparency. Especially as they have all been "all in" when it comes to  Watson Island, the approach to the use of Legacy and the Rupert 2030 vision planning.

The City's ownership of CityWest was also a key part of the Mayor's overview, noting of the current push towards partnerships with Indigenous communities and the work taken on as part of the Coastal Connection project.

Mr. Brain observed of the provision of distribution payments, which are mainly a repayment plan of the large loan delivered when the company shifted from Civic department to civic investment. 

Though until the loan is paid out, it will be hard to fully gain an appreciation if the City's communication company is going to return to the kind of financial payments to its sole share holder that once were listed in the millions of dollars.

CityWest is again a topic which the Council members rarely speak of, the updates for the public from management few; the details on the CityWest website more towards the commerce of the business, as opposed to how the city benefits from, or manages the company.

Also making for a theme as it has in the past, was the Mayor's take on an ongoing feud between the City and the province, related to the current Port Property Tax policies, a disagreement that seemingly is no different whether with an NDP or a Liberal government. 

The Port Tax issues makes for much of the focus of the City's budget making narrative reach year, almost as regular in anticipation for the City as tax collection day is. 

It's a topic often answered back indirectly by the Prince Rupert Port Authority with their explanation at Annual Public Meeting time, usually by way of a passage as to how the current arrangement with the Province benefits further Port Development, which then would generate other revenue for the city.

It's an issue that seemingly has no solution for the Mayor on the horizon and whether it remains as part of a whip hand for the next City Council will be worth following during the fall campaign. 

Likewise, it would be nice for a magical pile of money to appear on the steps of City Hall, as the Mayor spoke of. However,  considering the current priorities for the Horgan government, it's probably not in the cards any time soon,. 

That reality is thus destined to leave the next Council to have to review their priorities lists and assign the available resources as best they can.

However, this State of the City presentation did bring some progress in the realm of  past feuds of note from the event. 

Including our own, we are no longer at war with East Asia moment, or in this case Port Edward.

The community that once was the main focus of council anger and frustration from State of the City presentations past. 

On Tuesday night, the Prince Rupert Mayor and Port Edward's Mayor outlined the plan in place towards better communication and partnership on a number of themes.

Some common sense progress to an issue that shouldn't have gone close to eight years as a flash point.

Overall, the State of the City highlighted the ambitious agenda that the Mayor took on upon his election in 2014, finding some success, but leaving a lot of the vision planning still to be fulfilled.

The challenges as Mr. Brain noted were many coming out of the gate eight years ago. The job no doubt was a hard one, though he has been well compensated for his efforts. But thanks from the community should be offered for his efforts to turn around some pretty dire circumstances.

But with such a wide scope of plans and visions as reviewed last week, the thought could be considered that maybe Council tried to take on too many themes at once. 

That volume of hopes and plans, could be why the success rate seems a bit less than perhaps the Mayor might have hoped for as he prepares for his political leave-taking at City Hall.

His work complete this fall, the blue prints for the future will be there for the review of those who take on the challenges come the fall election. 

However, whether those elected in October will share the same zeal for many of the vision themes the Mayor has crafted for our future, will be determined by how they assign their priorities when they take their oath of office.

In the broadcast portion of the night, Mr. Brain gave no hints as to his future plans as he takes his leave of the Mayor's Chair. 

Though considering the research material he has on hand from the Hays 2.0 days and the Rupert 2030 vision plan, perhaps a book is something for him to consider for the future.

The Mayor does like to tell a story and the journey of the last eight years does have a few plot devices that could make Saving A City (TM pending ....) perhaps the next big release for Prince Rupert's own Muskeg Press ... offering Mayor Brain an opportunity to join Rudy Kelly and many others on the local book signing circuit.

Trying to put two hours of material into a short synopsis, does leave some key elements of the State of the City presentation on the sidelines. 

We have tried to provide as much of an overview of the June 28th event  as possible through an archive page we created which explores many of the elements of the presentation.

You can review those notes here.

1 comment:

  1. Legacy Corp's financial statements are, as the mayor says, posted on the city website (separate from the info page referred to above), but they do not explain much. Legacy had rental revenue of $2.4 million in 2021, but from what sources is unknown. There was also $920,000 for "Throughput", whatever that means.

    As the article points out, little is known about the Watson Island reclamation project. Perhaps that accounts for the much of $1.8 million in "Contract services" between 2017 and 2021. Those costs increased dramatically in 2018 then levelled off. With such scant information, though, it's hard to say.

    The cost