Friday, June 30, 2023

SOFI Questions for Council from Monday night public comment period to gain personal reply

The City's release of their Statement of Financial Information made for
some questions from a member of the public on Monday evening

As we outlined at the start of the week, the City of Prince Rupert released the volume of financial review, listings and charts  that makes for the annual release of the Statement of Financial information or SOFI as. its known.

Cost of work on Infrastructure and that of supplies and services surged in 2022 

SOFI report shows one million dollar increase to civic payroll totals for 2022 

Slight uptick for City Council members salaries from 2022 Statement of Financial Information 

The City's complete Documentation was provided last Friday as part of the Agenda for the Monday Council Session, with Council members to received the report from the CFO.

With its placement on the Agenda, the report was available for public comment and towards that opportunity one city resident came forward in the comment period to ask a number of questions towards some of the documentation.

City resident Terry Sawka used the Public Comment period to speak to five areas of note related to the SOFI Report for him.

"The Airport Ferry, there's dollars attached in the financial report on page 47, the question I have is what does it cost to operate the  ferry to the airport and what is the cost per passenger on the ferry to the airport. My understanding is the cost is rolled into the ticket price or some how or another.

Also on page 47 there's an item called franchise fees, if I could get an explanation what that means.

Now a little bit more serious, reading farther on, on page 38. The 10 million plus, maybe 11 million  dollars that was used to finance the expansion, or Renos of the airport in 2020, were suspended.  And the information that's in there is that it was reinstated in March 1st of 2023, my question is why were those payments that are done twice yearly suspended.

The other question I have coming out of the report, it cost 3.7 million dollars to remediate Watson Island. Was there any revenue generated by the people that  took Watson Island apart, because there are a lot of items there that worth millions and millions of dollars. I worked there for 35 years and I'm quite familiar with some of the stuff that was worth a lot of money.

What is the revenue generated from Watson Island, we all talk about it's in the paper how Watson Island is generating revenue, but I have yet to find any numbers how much is it generating?"

Council received and approved the report during the Regular Council session, with the report passing through the proceedings with no comment from Council members. 

The City's Chief Financial Officer Corinne Bomben, didn't add much to the conversation, her comments towards the report noting of the volume of information available for review. 

"It's all in the report, this is a standard publication that needs to be done every single year under the Financial Act' -- City of Prince Rupert CFO, Corrine Bomben

One member of Council did circle back to the comments from Mr. Sawka from the start of the evening.

With Councillor Nick Adey speaking at the end of the Council session, recapping the presentation from Mr. Sawka and asking that a reply be provided to the city resident.

"In response to questions that were ask during the public questions. 

There were questions related to the Airport Ferry Operating costs and the cost per passenger, there was a question around franchise fees and what that represents. 

There was a question around the Airport Renovation suspension of those and the reinstitution in 2023 and why they were suspended in the first place. 

And finally the Watson Island remediation, I assume there is a distinction in this question between the revenues that are being generated on Watson Island under the Legacy and the revenues that might have resulted from the disposal of materials coming off of the island.

I'm focusing on those questions, not necessarily to get an answer tonight  to them, but as a request that at the very least some answers to those questions are provided for the person who was asking them" -- City Councillor Nick Adey.

The City's Corporate Administrator Ross Miller outlined that both she and the CFO had taken note of the questions and how the response would come for them.

"I myself have noted the questions, as I'm quite certain our CFO has as well.  And we will, someone will get back, likely Ms. Bomben, will get back to Mr. Sawka with those answers"

All of the documents related to the Statement of Financial Information can be reviewed from the Agenda from Monday evening starting on page 114.

You can review the full suite of conversation on the topic from the City's Video Archive from the Monday Council Session. 

Mr. Sawka's questions lead it all off at the one hour mark on the night, Council's approval of the SOFI information and Ms. Bomben's statement can be found at the 2 hour 2 minute mark, while Councillor Adey notes on the topic and the Corporate Administrators comments towards a civic reply come along at the 2 hour 23 minute mark 

While it's reassuring that there was advocacy for the residents questions, and that answers will be provided.  It seems that in the spirit of full information for the public that a question raised in a public forum should be answered in a public forum.

With Council now on their more relaxed Summer Schedule and not scheduled to hold another public session until the last week of July, it's likely Mr. Sawka will be getting his reply well before an opportunity of a Council update.

So, perhaps city staff could used the range of information sharing options that they have available to them,  to provide for a transcript of the answers for review of all residents who may have an interest in the questions that were raised on Monday evening.

More notes on the Monday Council Session can be reviewed here.


  1. The $3.7 million remediation cost for Watson Island that Mr Sawka refers to is in notes in the latest and previous annual financial statements. It's part of the book value calculation that the auditors have to make since the land is technically being held by the City for re-sale.

    As for his question about how much revenue is being generated, the notes say that 35 acres are being leased out for $1.2 million. The notes seem to provide the only public disclosures to date. The mayor and council, past and present, have not been very forthcoming, which is odd considering that on balance Watson seems to be a good news story.

    Substantial holding costs and legal fees were incurred for several years after the land was acquired through the tax sale. The notes also mention that $1.6 million is owed to the Ministry of Education, presumably for tax defaults by the previous owner(s).

    It would be good to get an overview report of where things now stand, and closure in a way. Sure, the place is generating revenue, but have the years of expenses and the liability to the Ministry of Education been fully recovered? Is the "hell hole" that Jack Mussellum famously referred to now history, or are there still some lingering consequences for the City's financial position?

  2. Other interesting information buried in the financial statement is that in 2022 CityWest recorded net revenue of $993,000 compared to $3,989,000 in 2021, which is a 75% drop. That helps explain why the company made no payments to the City in 2022 (in 2021 it paid down $800,000 of its debt).

    I wonder how well informed the mayor and council are about CityWest's finances? In the past they should have received reports or at least answers to questions from their senior managers who they appointed to the board. According to CityWest's web site there are three former, but no current, City managers on the board. Information flow is probably not be what it used to be.

  3. Mr. Sawka asked the questions in a public forum. It would be nice to see the answers to his questions available to the public. The city could put on the website or include the answers in the next council agenda.

    1. All valid points. Voice them at a Council meeting in your own name and you will likely get a response

    2. You're probably right. As has been noted many times in NCR's reporting, the council members rarely ask questions. Councillor Adey is becoming an exception in that regard.