Prince Rupert residents must be wondering if their local politicians will ever stop coming up to them asking for even more money than they already provide.
Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District is seeking more money from a shrinking taxpayer base, after approving a five year financial plan at a rather combative Friday meeting.
The plan was approved despite the uncertainties expressed by three of the district councilors, who questioned some of the financial figures that were being used to develop the plan.
The heated meeting included an interjection from Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond, who was participating in the Friday evening meeting by teleconference. Pond expressed his outrage at the questioning of the accuracy of the figures by declaring those accusations are baseless and spurious allegations.
The Daily News featured a review of the Friday night fireworks and a bit of background on the controversial issues in the Wednesday paper.
SOME DIRECTORS QUESTION DISTRICT'S NEW BUDGET
The Daily News
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
The Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District will spend an additional $243,000 in 2007 terminating its administrator/planner and hiring new staff — and it looks like it will be asking tax payers to foot the bill.
At Friday night’s meeting, SQCRD board members approved a five-year financial plan that sees the budget balloon from $587,964 in 2006 to a projected $831,757 in 2007.
“We have kept this budget equal to last year with no increases except in areas of administrative cost going up,” said Tony Briglio, director for the city of Prince Rupert and vice chair.
Projected audit and legal expenses are expected to increase $87,000 in 2007 (up from $13,067 to $100,000,) plus an increase in salaries of $100,000 due to the termination of Beil who was doing three jobs (from $196,145 in 2006 to $300,000) with staff benefits also doubling (from $26,000 to $54,000.)
The amount of money it will be requisitioning from member municipalities — including Prince Rupert, Port Edward, Masset, Port Clements and the village of Queen Charlotte — is up from $180,000 to $266,978. These municipalities in turn will be asking their taxpayers to foot this bill.
Other oddities in the budget included an anticipated $244,000 grant in lieu of taxes listed in the 2007 budget that did not exist in 2006 that was used to balance the numbers.
Three directors refused to support the budget. They were Des Nobels, Ian Hetman and Karl Bergman.
“I tried and tried and tried to understand this budget and I can’t see anyone being comfortable with this,” said Karl Bergman.
“There are nothing but questions.”
Nobels said he believes the budget will increase taxes for his constituents, yet they were not able to have comment on it.
The draft budget was passed out to members of the public in attendance at the meeting just prior to the public comment period.
He added that he believes the budget will eat into the district’s reserves. In the past, he said, the district has passed balanced budgets that either maintained or lowered the requisition from taxpayers. However, in this year’s budget that is not the case.
Janet Beil, former administrator planner at the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District, took a look at the figures during that period and described them as “totally inaccurate”.
After pointing out what she believed were glaring inaccuracies between 2006 and 2007 figures, she questioned how they could do this to the taxpayers.
“I am just wondering how small municipalities are going to pay for this budget, especially municipalities that have lost assessment value,” she said.
However Carol Kulesha, representing the Village of Queen Charlotte, said they were following the provincial process and had only had a very short time to put together the budget.
“Is everything perfect? No. Things are difficult when you are in the midst of revamping things. Nevertheless, we have followed the process of the ministry,” said Kulesha. She added that the numbers are based on those provided to them by auditors. The regional district will be having auditors do an even more in depth analysis in the coming year.
Allegations that the figures were inaccurate seemed to infuriate director Herb Pond, city of Prince Rupert, who participated in the meeting by teleconference.
“These are baseless and spurious allegations. They are not identifying any single truth but laying general statements to which they have never once in our process, which has been extensive, objected,” said Pond.
“The broad statements that cast aspersions on the best work that could be done under the circumstances should be stopped.”
At this point, chair Barry Pages ended the conversation and the budget was adopted with the three members opposed.