Monday, January 15, 2007

Making the numbers work for us

The most recent population statistics show a slight increase in the numbers of those that have chosen to make Prince Rupert home. In a Stats BC update the population of the city has edged over the 15,000 mark, a Rubicon that brings with it a bit of a problem for the City of Prince Rupert.

The increase has caught more than a few folks by surprise, as the anecdotal evidence around town, suggests a population trend having gone in the other direction. With the well documented recent problems in the local economy, it seems hard to believe that the population has actually increased, but the BC Stats numbers say that we’re back on the upward swing.

The change of fortunes leaves the mayor with a rather sticky problem, as with an increase to over 15,000 residents the City becomes more responsible for the funding of local police services, a bill that with the current financial climate is an unwelcome addition.

In fact, the mayor while on one hand no doubt thankful for a suggested turn around is however erring on the side of caution, pointing out that the folks at Stats BC have missed more than a few local milestones, so perhaps we should take their number of 15,281 with a grain of salt.

However, if the city wishes to play the numbers game, they had best take care of their own knitting. On its very own website, the population hasn’t been updated since the 1996 census numbers came out, when the city was a veritable megalopolis of 17,681.

Now granted they even say on the website that information may not be current and the website is under re-construction, but if you’re trying to sell the prospect of a reduced population, and bashing the other government agency for its less than reliable information, then you need to at least make sure that your numbers are a little closer to what you are suggesting.

If they can pull it off, the city would much rather go with the last estimated population of 14,972 for one more year, hoping to avoid dipping into the civic coffers for the additional expense of policing.

There’s always the 2006 census which has a release date of March 13 , when the numbers compiled from last years mass count will be made public. Providing what the mayor hopes will be the definitive number, at least until somebody comes up with another one.

While it would probably be best fiscally for the city to remain below 15,000 people, it’s not exactly the best public relations to be hoping for a decrease in your population.

For a city that’s been struggling to prove that all is not lost on the North coast, it doesn’t exactly exude a lot of confidence in your future if you’re hoping to stay small, even if for only one more year.

The Daily News featured the number crunching troubles on its front page Monday.

Pegging population at higher than 15,000 will lead to extra policing bills
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Monday, January 15, 2007
Pages one and three

A new report by B. C. Stats puts Prince Rupert’s 2006 population up above 15,000, much to the disbelief of many people living here.

According to the data released Jan. 8, Rupert’s population grew by two per cent between 2005 and 2006, up from 14,972, to 15,281, an increase of 309 people. But breaking the 15,000 barrier is not something that Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond is quite ready to believe.

“I would dispute that,” said Pond. “We are still waiting for the federal census numbers,”

In fact, he said his sense is that so far, B. C. Stats is not reading Prince Rupert very well at all.

“They missed the severe downturn and have under-estimated our growth going forward,” he said.

And both of these issues present challenges for the city and province when it comes to planning.

“There are problems both ways,” he said.

For example, by saying the city has broken the 15,000 mark. Rupertites could now be responsible for paying an additional 20 per cent of their policing costs. In British Columbia, municipalities with populations between 5,000 and 15,000 pay for 70 per cent of their RCMP contract. Municipalities with populations above 15,000 pay for 90 per cent of their RCMP contract.

In Prince Rupert, the city pays about $2.2 million for RCMP services out of a total bill of $3.18 million. If the city has passed 15,000, it could add another $600,000 to the bill. Per person that works out to an increase from $148 to $187 per person.

”It makes a huge difference to policing costs,” said Pond. “If it were to happen in the future and we could plan for it, that would be okay, but if it were to happen right now, it would be damaging.

In addition, B. C. Stats seems to be under-estimating the amount of growth city officials are expecting from future developments, putting a potential squeeze on the future health care plans and the size of the North Coast riding.

B. C. Stats claims the North Coast riding will see big changes in the years ahead.

B. C. Stats is predicting the North Coast will see the largest population decline of all 79 ridings in B. C. between 2005 and 2013 – down from 28,313 in 2005 to 26,041 in 2013.

The presents a problem when planning for projects like the replacement facility for Acropolis Manor, said Pond, because it means fewer beds could get built than will actually be required.

The city has already made its displeasure known about the prospect of seeing the North Coast riding expanded or amalgamated with a neighbour because of the projections for a population reduction.

Fortunately, Pond noted that the 2006 census numbers could help at least clear up the confusion around population.

The population numbers are expected to be released by Statistics Canada March 2007.

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