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.
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.
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.