Friday, April 12, 2024

The Legacy Cookie Jar ... City Council's Fund of choice to get out of tight spots or tough decisions

The City's use of some funding from their Legacy Financial instrument was once again a talking point at City Council this week.  

That as we noted from our council reviews of the week, coming from the request for an amendment to the 2024 Financial Plan. That request one to top up the funding required for design work on the city's ambitions for the McCarthy GM building on Portage.

April 10 -- "Bumps on the road" -- City Councillors approve use of Legacy Dividends for McCarthy designs work, but raise questions on path forward 

April 8 -- Legacy Fund Dividends come to the rescue for preliminary planning for City's McCarthy GM facility for Civic Operations use

It marks the most recent occasion that City Council has used the financial instrument towards a project or civic initiative that needs a bit of extra cash to move forward, or has seen a cost over run.  

The use of the Legacy instrument something which over the last few years is akin to the Ghostbusters getting a call, whenever  Council sees a few financial ghosts. 

Legacy was created in 2014 during the exuberance of the days of LNG when local officials suggested we were going to be the centre of the then percolating industry, with hyper economic growth to go along with it. 

Yet curiously as years moved forward, at times some seemed to work to make sure that those LNG ambitions didn't come to pass in this part of the Northwest. 

The seed money for what became Legacy came from the bank account of Exxon-Mobil-Imperial, which was here kicking tires on Lot 444, the property across from Seal Cove which the city moved inside the city limits during that period.

However, by early 2018 Exxon and their components had announced that their planning was to come to an end, leaving behind their thank you notes by way of a reported 18 million dollars.

Towards the city's use of the financial instrument, the Legacy entry on the city website doesn't take long to work through, with only a few additions to it since the original notice of 2014.

Tracking just how often Council has used Legacy Dividends, or principle from the original Legacy money isn't an easy task. 

Curious residents over the years would have to dig deep into the Financial notes at budget time for nuggets of information. 

Or keep a watchful eye for Reports to Council through the year from the Chief Financial Officer, to determine whenever another few dollars were distributed to projects, vision planning work or other initiatives.

Last Fall saw a presentation for the public that noted of the many Budget initiatives for 2024 and where the Legacy option was put to use.  Most of the areas where money has been used residents likely would find sensible, a few others probably not so much so.

Still for most of us, without a current and updated document available on the civic website to review, it's hard to say if Council is using their cookie jar as the public may wish it to be used.  

Or if they consider it their own account towards the execution of their vision planning elements of recent years.

Setting up such an easily accessible resource on the civic website, listing each of the times that the Legacy instrument has been put to use, would at least give residents some kind of an idea as to how their money ...  for it is the community's cash not Council's, is being used.

In recent months we've seen some hints as to how Council makes its decisions, for instance the topic of the 4th Avenue West stair and walkway remediation program, despite much public engagement stalled last year; the idea of using Legacy Funds seemingly not something that Council seemingly had an appetite for.

Same for what has become the annual Budget time request from Councillor Gurvinder Randhawa that Council use the financial instrument to reduce the burden on those who pay property taxes each July.

Though as we saw this week, should a project, in this case the plan to move Civic Operations to the McCarthy facility find itself facing a significant cost estimate spike, it's Legacy to the rescue.

The workings of the Legacy Instrument, along with how it relates to the operations of Watson Island, and much like how the City oversees CityWest, another element of the city's financial portfolio; all seem to be divisions which never seem to gain much interest from Council towards  regular and informative public reviews or oversight.

And despite the concept that residents of Prince Rupert in effect hold the position of shareholders for all three; there never seems to be a Shareholders meeting called to outline where the City is going with those entities, or for the public to ask questions about them.

The closest we get is during events like the recent Town Hall Forum of earlier this month or previous State of the City forums, where Legacy is praised for its contribution to civic finances.  

Or as was the case in 2022, a few highlights on the use of the instrument through infographics. 

But when it comes to actual details on operations, or how Council is shaping its vision, let alone if Council priorities are in line with what the public may want. 

Those are elements that don't make for much public discussion.

Council for the most part in recent years seems to have lost their way on why they have been elected, that to act as advocates for those who send them to 424 Third Avenue West.

Instead at times they appear quite content and indeed enthusiastic, to have become part of the sales team that represents City Hall Inc. to the public.

That approach probably has evolved owing to a lack of interest by the local media in any form of local government function, from City Council, to School Board, to the work of the MLA in Victoria.

That disinterest when it comes to taking note of Council's work, putting their deliberations into a spotlight and seeking accountability, leaves the message making to the elected officials, Senior Staff members  and the communications team.  

And that's not really offering the kind of review that digs into areas that the public should want to have explored.

Then again, the voters of the community share some of that responsibility towards those issues and the current situation.

The 2022 municipal election saw just 2,835 voters cast a ballot

Over the years the election turnout for municipal and all elections for that matter, has been concerning creating somewhat of a democracy deficiency.

With most residents taking a pass on their civic duty on election day, a message likely not lost by those that shape policy at City Hall, the School Board office or at the Legislature, as well as by those who are supposed to be reporting on it.

Yes, every once in a while an issue pops up, such as this week that catches the attention of the public.  

But without any follow up and engagement with civic officials by residents and what's left of the media in the region; the cycle surely will return to a pattern that seems pretty predictable by now.

We've explored the Legacy theme in particular more than a few times over the years since 2014 and there is very much a sense of a Ground Hog day vibe around it all. 

You can review much of that previous work through our Council Discussion  archives over the years.

1 comment:

  1. The city uses the Legacy Fund like it is found money. It is not, it’s taxpayers money behind an opaque veil.
    I don’t know why when money is needed the city doesn’t occasionally tap CityWest to pay off some of their loan.