Thursday, November 30, 2023

Fourth Avenue Walkway spurs Budget conversation/defers any decisions until 2024

The long running debate on how to fix and how to pay for the reopening of the 4th Avenue Walkway and staircase made for a good portion of Monday night's budget conversation by Prince Rupert City Councillors, though the concept of an additional tax of 1.07 per cent tagged onto to the 7.7 percent rate set in the Budget clearly wasn't going to make much traction on the night.

The topic came up at the outset of the near sixty minutes of Budget conversation, flagged as an item of interest by Councillor Nick Adey who had noted of the correspondences and interest that the topic had generated in the civic consultation period.

We outlined how the walkway had resonated with the civic engagement participants, our notes from Monday providing a glimpse into their correspondences as well as the Capital project options that had been presented by CFO Corinne Bomben.

Monday night we gained some insight into where each of the councillors that participated in the topic during the discussion, viewed the near one year closure of the walkway and how to address the remediation required to reopen it.

Councillor Nick Adey led off on that theme,  observing of the public commentary received towards the Budget and walkway issue related to discretionary spending.

"I don't really see anybody rooting for an increase beyond the 7.7 percent and I say that knowing that advocates for the stairway on 4th Avenue, advocates for a renewal of the Lester Centre contract, must be aware that getting what they would want is asking for it to be beyond the 7.7 percent.

And I should say that I think that those initiatives are worth supporting, I would very much like in fact fund a quarter of a million dollars to build a stairway, because I think we are going to one way or another some point in the next year or two, quite likely commit ourselves to doing.

I guess the question is when and how that gets funded."

Towards that funding issue, the Councillor expanded on his theme of moving the initiatives forward, offering some hope of additional provincial funding for the city in 2024.

"With that in mind, I wonder if there could be some thought put into a couple of possibilities, we're into the month of November and if I understand the process correctly, the actual final budget is not approved until May.

So what I would like to suggest is that, in the event that the city's revenue streams are positively impacted by potential future decisions by the provincial government, perhaps as early as their 2024 budget. 

That we should consider a commitment towards those particular initiatives as a kind of first call for is this somewhere we can support improvements, particularly the stairway I think.  Because I think the community interest is quite high for people in that neighbourhood and I think that it's as I say, I think it's something that we're going end up doing at some point anyway.

So I would like us to feel, that if there is a change in the revenue situation that we would bring these things back as a point of consideration"   

Councillor Teri Forster had a question for the CFO related to the city's use of dividends and how those could factor into council's view of the issue.

"I did have a question about ...  potential funding for the stairway. 

I understand that dividends come as one time payments, so they're not supposed to be things that would be ongoing,  they would be a one time thing.

I'm not certain I understand why if we were to go with the stairway it would be taxation versus a dividend unless it's simply just because there's not enough money to pay for it from a dividend.

So I'm just wondering if I can understand that a bit better and I also assume, and this is an assumption, that we've already looked a grants, active living grants, different grants that could pay for some of this stairway and maybe they're pending, maybe they're not?"

Ms. Bomben first reviewed the grant process the city follows to the topic. 

"We have been looking for grants, but active transportation is a very hot topic right and there will continue to be active transportation grants availability, so we will be looking again in 2024 for grant opportunity that could help fund the stairs. 

As Councillor Adey mentioned, the process is right now we're asking for direction to do the five year plan but we fully expect that we will be back in front of you in the spring, to possibly bring forward an amendment. 

And if there's any other revenues and grants for instance that could help go towards the stairs at the point we would certainly be willing to bring that forward"

On the query from the councillor on dividends, Ms. Bomben noted how the 250,000 cost was a big ask of the dividend option. 

"As far as the dividend goes, the answer is yes, it wasn't considered ... 250,000 dollars is a big amount, there's already quite a bit that's going to be dividended for 2023, that's a really long and awkward word. 

And then of course there's about 4 million dollars worth of dividends that is proposed, the annual revenues on Watson Island through Legacy is 4 million dollars. So it was just one of those items, that it didn't benefit the entire community, instead of one segment to seemed like that we could possibly get some grants for."

Councillor Barry Cunningham observed of the decisions that the city has to make with many groups that have many wants, while the city has limited resources to meet those.

"Well, you know, it's stairs versus the Lester Centre,  versus parks, versus Enhancement Grants. You know like I remember Councillor Adey a few of months ago on about parks on the west side of town and things like that. 

So you know, we've gotta make tough choices here whether we like it or not. And you know there's groups in each segment that want more money, we don't have the money to give. So you know like it's unfortunate it is what it is. 

I know that Staff will be looking actively to find ... the stairs seem to be a priority, but ah the Lester Centre is definitely looking for money and needs it. Parks, we need parks and there's people lobbying for that. So we've got to take it all into stride and try to make the best decision for the town. It's unfortunate, the buck stops here"

Councillor Wade Niesh spoke to the theme of what he called civic 'extras', flagging the Fourth Avenue walkway issue, noting that it was just one of many pathways that the city has closed over the years.

"You know, I understand that people want  to see a pathway on Fourth Avenue, but there's paths that have been closed all over this town over the last fifteen years and this is not just one path, it's not the only path.  There's paths all over the place that are closed.

I mean when I used to have dogs, I used to walk many of the paths, there's many paths that have signs that say closed and you know people just go through them still. 

(something the Mayor noted was not recommended)

I'm not saying do it, I'm just saying these trails, Fourth Avenue is not the only one now is there options, yes there is. People can walk to the end of Fourth and walk down Service Park, people 
can walk down the other street and go down McBride. 

Is it ideal maybe not, but there is options"

The Councillor raised one option that could make for some controversy related to the topic, noting of a proposal from 2021 and the days of City Manager Robert Long and current City Manager Rob Buchan's time as the city's contract planner.   

That of the idea of Local Area Service Agreements for neighbourhoods looking for improvements.

 "There was some conversations we had in the past, about I'm trying to remember what it was called ... Local Service Agreement I believe it was called ... Local Area Service so you know, that people that are impacted the most by something that can affect them. Then they can actually agree to a tax increase for their area, if they can you know justify to the people in their area that they use that particular item. 

And those people in that area can actually pay an additional amount of taxes on their's over a period of twenty years to pay for something.  So you know there is that option too, if they feel strongly about that trail getting done right away.

I can't justify having the whole community pay another what was it, one percent to pay for that trial so I had to oppose that at the time. I would love to be able to you know do it, but it's just not there"

Councillor Gurvinder Randhawa did not speak directly to the pathway issue, though his comments towards how the Legacy Fund is used highlighted such areas as capital spending projects.

The Mayor observed, that if they were to use that money for one capital project, they would have to decide which of the existing project proposals would have to be eliminated to re-allocate the money.

The placement of the walkway on City Council's list of priorities for 2024 likely will continue to be the focus of those advocating for the reopening of the transportation links.

An additional resolution was added to the Budget considerations on the night, that from Councillor Adey 

That towards how to fund the Fourth Avenue Stairs and for Council to work with staff to explore opportunities for funding, or realize changes in revenue streams.

"A request that staff explore ways in which to either exploit opportunities that arise between now and May in the form of grants or changes in our funding, to move towards hopefully finding a way to get those stairs built" -- Councillor Nick Adey

Councillor Cunningham noted that Staff were already looking for alternative funding options for the walkway project.

The Walkway discussion ebbs and flows through the Budget discussion which you can review through the city's video archive below, the topic is introduced at the 14 minute mark:

More notes from Monday's Council Session can be reviewed from our session archive page.

A look at some of the history of the quest by 4th Avenue west residents to have the walkway reopened can be reviewed below:

November 8 -- Budget proposal would see 4th Avenue Walkway/Staircase remediation work by way of 250,000 dollar tax increase to Budget plan
October 23 -- Fourth Avenue Walkway status is subject of report for Council tonight
October 13 -- Brush clearing along 4th Avenue walkway, prelude to further geo tech investigation 
September 1 -- Prince Rupert's Tale of Two Staircases 
May 24 -- Power of petition, attendance in gallery brings a second look at status of 4th Avenue walkway to downtown 
May 23 -- Petition Push calls for City to repair walkway/staircase between 4th Avenue West and 3rd West
May 5 -- Plans for Staircase pathway repairs not on immediate horizon for City Operations Department 

The walkway had also made for a short comment back on April 11th, that during the Council comment period at the end of the session.

More notes from City Council themes is available from our archive page here.


  1. Council member Neish may have used the 4th Ave Walkway for dog walking, but it was a good way of getting from downtown to another part of the city, such as to the library and beyond. His suggestion that local owners could pay for the cost of restoring it to use through Local Area Service Agreement is a clanger, very short-sighted. Trails and walkways are part of the transportation network, just like roads, and an under-valued asset that the city should give greater attention to. Making it easier for people to get around by walking, out of cars and less reliant on limited parking, has many benefits.

    1. Sounds like you’re saying you’d be willing to pay to see it fixed?

      Service improvement area thus makes good sense

    2. I doubt that I live close enough that I would have to pay if there was a Local Area Service Agreement. The Walkway was not only used by "the neighbourhood". Trails and walkways are part of general city infrastructure just like roads and should be funded accordingly. I agree with councillor Adey's thinking on this.

    3. The closed walkways are going to be numerous around town. With no maintenance the city will close more. The one from Hays Vale has been closed for years.

  2. A lot of the problem is that the decision makers when sustainability, green, climate change etc are on the agenda, all or most of them, drive vehicles and probably think nothing of it. Walking is to them recreation or something the dog needs to do. But there are a lot of people in this town who out of necessity or choice don't have vehicles, live low carbon lifestyles and mostly get around by walking. That's not thought about enough.