Friday, March 24, 2023

Port related issues require Provincial input and guidance to dial down the rhetoric

As it has been for a number of years now, the City of Prince Rupert Budget process has been framed by the municipal government's concerns over the need for increased financial support from the Prince Rupert Port Authority.

The twin issues of Port Tax Caps and Payment in Lieu of taxes was the dominant  narrative to Wednesday's Budget presentation, with both City Manager Rob Buchan and CFO Corinne Bomben noting of challenging financial revenue streams that are impacting on how they craft their financial plan.

The topic of the Tax Caps was put into the spotlight in the fall through a local petition drive that for the most part overshadowed the municipal election campaign

The topic at that time keeping the focus on the frustrations over financials as the dominant theme for the election campaign, rather than any review of governance of the last eight years, or indication as to what was planned for the post election period for the new Council.

The financial forecast that was delivered on Wednesday night, was for the most part one that was telegraphed in late 2022, the warning of clouds on the horizon coming as Council members seemed to be setting the stage for the large proposed tax increase of 15.7% that was delivered this week.

While the city's frustration over Port related financial themes boils over from time to time through the year, there is a regular pattern to them.

The Port issues having become a Groundhog Day experience every March, an element of civic financial planning that seems to have become part of the baggage of budget time.

CFO Corinne Bomben in February 2015 speaking to
the City's financial challenges of the times

The issue of the Port Caps first took on a larger focus in the Budget prep work of 2015, when CFO Corinne Bomben provided for a review of the revenue challenges that city faced from the situations of the day.

The pie charts of eight years ago and the financial numbers of concern have ebbed and flowed from year to year. But from 2015 to today, the Port financial themes have dominated the conversation, the only changes to be found those of the participants on City Council, some civic staff and the executives at the Port.

City Staff and Councillors have used the same script and delivered the same argument ever since; the Port as our recent history would suggest, doesn't quite see things as the City does and uses the existing provincial legislation towards their own financial planning needs.

So far, almost a  decade into this, there doesn't appear to be any resolution on the horizon and all that we have now is percolating frustrations, occasionally boiling over into the type of accelerated rhetoric that has made for the narrative in more recent years.  

A sample of which, was again  part of the conversation from some of the councillors in the Council Chamber on Wednesday evening when the Draft Budget was released.

What's truly needed  at this point is some kind of final ruling on the two issues, if for no other reason than to deliver some closure to the topic and allow for some certainty in the future towards civic expectations and a more workable relationship between the City and the largest employer in the region in the Port.

That's where some leadership needs to come from the Provincial side of the discussion, considering that the two financial streams of the controversy are through provincial overview.

What is needed for the community to fully understand the issues from both the city and the Port's points of view; is for some form of independent representative of the province to provide the information that will allow for an informed decision by the public on where this should go from here.

The result of that work, should be something that will deliver us with  a step by step review of the history of the two financial themes and explain why it exists as it does to this day. 

As well as to why the province has not changed them, after so many years of advocacy from the municipality. 

That perhaps could be the next thing for North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice to put her efforts towards. 

That after having done some strong advocacy for the community in the last five months on our waterline issues as was noted by Mayor Pond at Monday's council session when speaking of the Premier's visit of last week.

In his closing comments following Wednesday's Budget Presentation Mayor Pond observed on the need to keep working on the issues, without pointing fingers.

His commentary delivering what sounded like a call for a constructive process to resolve the concerns.

"And  let's go to work on attracting all the other forms of revenue we possibly can.

Let's keep working on the RBA, let's keep working on a solution to the Cap that works for everybody. 

I'm not pointing my finger at anybody, let's just work on solutions that work for everybody." --   Mayor Herb Pond at Wednesday's Budget presentation session

The need for all of the community stakeholders, municipal government, provincial government and Prince Rupert Port Authority to all be on the same page is key to that resolution, but at the moment that's not something that's seemingly even close.

As for this moment in time, crafting a civic budget means dealing with the hand you have, not the one you wish you had.  Something that the Mayor seemed to allude to as well, as part of his closing summation from Wednesday night.

That's the task for Council and staff today and for the public to realize as they offer up their suggestions and help the elected officials find their way to a final budget document by May.

You can follow the city's progress on the 2023 budget through our Archive page here.


  1. While I completely agree with your premise that more provincial / federal leadership is required here, there’s some important context to note:

    It has been local port executives who made the choice to appeal their land assessment every single year since at least 2013.

    It was local port executives who committed in 2016 to help find a solution to the port tax cap, but then advocated for expanding the cap.

    No provincial or federal intervention could/would have prevented the actions of the PRPA leadership.

    So here’s hoping when Premier David Eby stepped in to get everyone to the table that they can find some sort of workable solution.

  2. There is a process in place and it is the ports right to appeal. God forbid that council calls out the government like they go after the port. Might affect the grants.
    It is easy to point fingers rather then acknowledge some of the cost overruns is living beyond our means.

    1. There’s a difference between a legal “right” and a responsibility.

      The port is owned by Canadian taxpayers, Rupertites are Canadians. It’s not in the community’s best jnterest for them to artificially devalue their properties over and over at our expense

    2. “Living beyond our means” ?? More like living below our means.

      It’s unacceptable for a port complex making $60 billion a year in trade to then turn around and ask its host community with only a $23 million tax budget to increase on everyone else by more than 4%.

    3. The Port PILT parasite: living and growing in its host and benefitting by deriving more money at the other's expense.

    4. Notice income does not equal profit. I might ask what steps the city has taken in the last eight plus years to reduce the tax burden.
      The only step the city took with consistency is dipping into Legacy Fund.

    5. “Dipping into legacy fund” is the answer to how the city has reduced our team burden.

      Thanks to the millions in tax and lease revenue from Watson, pembina is shouldering a relatively high burden compared to capped port industry.

      No pembina = 100% higher tax rates

      No mill demolition = 90k per month cost to taxpayers