Tuesday, December 5, 2023

A Few questions from the public mark Prince Rupert Council's path forward towards Financial Plan adoption

Prince Rupert resident Terry Sawka took advantage of the public
comment period at Monday's Special Council session to 
speak to some of his Financial Play concerns 

When they scheduled the Special Session of Council for Monday evening, Staff and councillors likely thought it would be quick bang on the gavel, introduction of the motion and vote, a process that would have them in and out of the Chamber in less than five minutes.

As it was, Monday's Special Session was still a brief gathering at just under 16 minutes, though with the participation of one member of the public, there were some questions to be asked prior to the vote to deliver First, Second and Third readings of the Five Year Financial Plan.

With Mayor Herb Pond not available on the night, the Chair duties fell to Councillor Nick Adey, who opened the 6 PM session with three councillors on hand in Chamber and two, Councillors Skelton-Morven and Forster participating by remote video. 

The Agenda offered up the opportunity for public comment, which was taken up by one member of the Gallery, Mr. Terry Sawka, who had a number of questions related to the process for Council on the night.

His opening review was towards the recent amendment to the 2023 Financial plan asking if it would have an impact on the 7.7 tax increase. 

CFO Bomben noted that as it was not part of the Agenda for evening, that was not a topic for discussion on the night, noting it would be coming back at the next City Council session.

"Again, that item is on the agenda for next week, however, the 2024 information is in the 2023 Amendment. The 2023 amendment is not going to affect 2024 because it deals with 2023" -- CFO Corinne Bomben

From that talking point, Mr. Sawka carried on, with a few other enquiries that were allowed for consideration  by Council.

His first, was to note of the recent engagement period and a number of correspondences that he had left with the city towards his questions and concerns on the budget process. 

City Councillor Adey noted that the responses he was seeking were included in the Agenda of last week.

Towards a solution, the Councillor noted that Corporate Administrator Miller would make that information available. 

Mr. Sawka then asked for clarification on the process ahead for the approval of the plan and if there is any further  opportunity for comment.

"Is there going to be any further opportunities for people to discuss the budget or is this going to be the done deal?" 

Councillor Adey outlined that the First, Second and Third readings would be taking place at the session underway and the final approval would come at the next meeting, noting of the extensive discussion by council on the financial plan themes at the last session.

"The First, Second and Third readings are held tonight and the next step would be a fourth reading at the next meeting. And as you are doing now, there's always that public comment section where you can comment on it. 

The fulsome discussion that took place at the last meeting is really where the public feedback was considered and the decisions were made on the basis of that. 

And while it is true that you can comment because it is on the Agenda, much of the public commentary has already been accounted in terms of Council's considerations" -- Councillor Nick Adey

At that point, Ms. Bomben who was also serving as the City Manager in the place of the vacationing Rob Buchan provided some guidance to Council on that theme of consultation.

"I will just mention as a procedural item, once Council introduces and gives first, second and third reading to any bylaw, there is still an opportunity for them to consider, except for in the cases of public hearings when there's certain legislative requirements where they can't hear any more after they've had a public hearing.

But there is still opportunity for them to still have an open mind prior to adoption" -- Director Corinne Bomben

Ms. Sawka then followed up with some observations related to the Five year financial plan under consideration on the night.

Among those were observations on the purchase of a new pick up truck for the Fire Department, along with the plan towards borrowing other equipment purchases and asking why the city did not consider leasing over purchase.

"What I'm thinking, is you lease something like that, like a bulldozer for three years from Case or whoever, after three years you turn around and give it back to them and get a new one. Yes you have to pay. But my experience has been with leasing, especially heavy duty equipment is that they come in, they do the maintenace on it, so it reduces your overhead

As opposed to buying something then you have to maintain it and then when you get rid of it, Ritchie's Auction gives you nothing for it"

Prince Rupert resident questioned how the city was approaching
 its plans for the MacCarthy building on Monday evening

His final comment for Council was related to the city's plans for the old MacCarthy property on Portage Avenue.

"How long are we going to be paying a lease on an empty building. So far the taxpayers of Prince Rupert have paid close to a million dollars the last three years for the MacCarthy building and nothings going on except a fence has been put around it"

In reply, Councillor Adey noted of some of the history of the discussion on those themes.

"These are to be fair,  these are points that have been raised throughout the process. We continue to move forward on the understanding that these are the most beneficial courses of action that we can take. But we appreciate the commentary and you know we understand the concern, we have certainly heard it before.

As it stands though, we have the package before us and if a councillor is moved to the point of wanting to change something there is still the facility to do that,

But I appreciate the commentary" -- Councillor Nick Adey

Mr. Sawka then confirmed with Council and staff that there was one more opportunity for public comment, noting how some other communities had closed off discussion on their Financial program discussion.

With that indication that he may be back for the Final Act of the Financial plan program at the next session, Council moved forward with the nights work, set to vote on the first three readings of the required bylaw. 

Towards discussion, Councillor Barry Cunningham noted how the bulk of the tax increase is going to wages and sought out some clarification from the CFO.

"The increase of 7.7 can she break that down, it's been broken down before and we've mentioned it before. 

How much of that is actually a wage increase for the CUPE contract and the RCMP contract to bring it into perspective. 

The 7.7 we're talking about wages for our workers and the RCMP as the bulk of that tax increase and we're sort of bogging down on minor things" -- Councillor Barry Cunningham

In reply, Ms. Bomben provided how the labour component was included in the proposed tax increase.

"So the labour increase is with benefits it's 3.97 percent, obviously that includes all of our labour which has three collective agreements and exempt staff. 

And then as far as the policing contract that is 1.42 percent potion of the 7.7 proposed tax increase.

Again it's proposes still, we are really just dealing with the deficit of  1.8 million dollars" 

Councillor Teri Forster offered up an observation on the nature of the RCMP policing contract.

"We as the City of Prince Rupert, or you as the City of Prince Rupert, didn't actually negotiate the RCMP contract, that was done outside of us. 

And like all municipalities in BC, we were sort of told the outcome of that.

So it's not that somebody negotiated something, outside of what could be done we were told what the outcome of that was" 

Towards the vote, the majority of those in attendance voted in favour of the First three readings of the bylaw, with only Councillor Gurvinder Randhawa casting his vote against.

With no other comments to be had, the session was then adjourned.

That now sets the stage for the Final reading for the bylaw which is to come at the next council session.

Unless they call for another Special Session, that likely comes at the final Regular Council session of the year on December 11th.

A meeting where the Council members may put the budget and five year plan to the finish line, but also one where residents like Mr. Sawka and anyone else with a comment will have one more opportunity to have their voices heard in the public session.

The full Council session can be reviewed below:

More notes on the City's 2024 Budget process can be reviewed here.

Other Discussion points from City Council can be explored from our archive page.

1 comment:

  1. To get the true tax increase the city should add the utilities increase into the percentage.