Thursday, April 29, 2010

Podunk Below the Masthead (Wednesday, April 28, 2010)

The people have a few questions for council, EI stats go up in Rupert and recreation issues become part of the ongoing debate at council, some of the items from the Wednesday news files.

Daily News, front page, headline story
PUBLIC IN A QUESTIONING MOOD REGARDING THE FIVE YEAR PLAN-- With the clock ticking on a required decision by mid month on the city's budgetary concerns, local residents took to council chambers on Monday to ask more than a few questions about the city's financial direction.

In news that isn't a surprise to job seekers, the unemployment rate in Prince Rupert continues to go up as Prince Rupert records an increase in the number of people collecting EI in the city. As the annual EI figures are released from Statistics Canada.

Nathan Cullen, the NDP MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley offers up the latest talking point on the great HST debate the thought that perhaps the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell should take the concept to the people in a referendum.

High school golf and soccer highlight the Wednesday sports section from the daily.

(Daily News Archives Wednesday, April 28, 2010)

Public in a questioning kind of mood regarding the five-year plan 
All eyes on EI Metlakatla building nears completion 
The Wheat and the Barley plan to leave a good taste in Rupert
Cullen favours taking it to the people (but not the HST)

The Northern View
City council discusses the role and management of local recreation complex -- The Northern View takes a look at the ongoing discussions over the fate of recreation issues in the city as the possibility of a two week closure of the civic centre continues to stir debate (see article here)

CFTK TV 7 News
Countdown to Radiothon begins-- CFTK promotes the upcoming radiothon hosted by the radio network across the nation (see article here)

CBC News Northern British Columbia, Daybreak North
No new items were posted to the Daybreak North website on Wednesday

Daybreak North is only posting selected items on their website now. The most recently posted items can be found on the archive page for Daybreak North click here

Daily News, front page, headline story
Public in a questioning kind of mood regarding the five-year plan 
By Monica Lamb-Yorski 
Staff Writer 
The Daily News
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

 Residents were out in force seeking answers to questions regarding the city’s budget

Half a dozen locals brought concerns to City Council Monday evening regarding the City’s Five Year Financial Plan. When it came time to give the plan its third reading, council deferred the plan until a special council meeting scheduled for May 3.

From Calvin Thompson’s suggestion that the City should seize the opportunity of present low interest rates to borrow money to address infrastructure concerns to Charlotte Rowse’s concerns that the present maintenance fee at Watson Island is drawing down the City’s reserves, public queries ran the gamut.

Thompson also questioned the timing of the budget presentation, suggesting Prince Rupert is the last community, if not one of the last, to be submitting its financial plan to government. By legislation the budget must be passed by May 15.

“I don’t feel it’s been given the opportunity for public input,” Thompson said of the budget. “It should have been presented two council meetings prior to this. Whereas a decision will be made within fourteen days, it would have been a better working process had it been presented at an earlier date.”

Mayor Jack Mussallem said he didn’t disagree with Thompson’s comments on the process and the time.

 “I would like you to understand, however, that this year has been exceptionally challenging to the council and staff to prepare this budget. Even today there are still considerations going on with this budget,” he said.

The City has continued to revisit it, and most recently attempted to discern the effect of the HST on the budget. 

Thompson, while he acknowledged the challenges, said the issues shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. 

When he meets with friends, neighbours and people that ask him questions in general discussion, he commented, many feel there is a lack of a plan coming from the City.

Describing the City’s as a conservative approach to budgeting, that takes away the hype of believing good things are just around the corner, Thompson said he would like to see a clear direction set out by the City for its taxpayers. 

“There is a necessity to have a functioning direction that is clear for people to understand where their tax money is going, what is needed for it to be going, so that there can be support for an action plan as (put) forward by council through the issues they deal with on a regular basis and by input from all the classes of taxpayers and that we move forward with that knowledge,” he commented.

Thompson wondered why the City isn’t taking advantage of low interest rates to borrow funds for infrastructure spending, based on its assets, and heard from the mayor, council has decided to be prudent for the upcoming year, to keep the tax increase as low as possible.

 “There is no smoke and mirrors here. There is no hype about any port. This budget is as real as it gets. This tax increase is what is acceptable to provide adequate service,” Mussallem responded.

 Predominate of Rowse’s questions was the City’s use of its reserves to maintain Watson Island and the lack or progress in the sale of the property.

 “Why aren’t we doing something about the mill? Why are we using our reserve money and why are our taxes going up again?” Rowse asked.

Mussallem said the City is mindful of the $74,000 to $100,000 monthly maintenance cost there. “It is of great concern and a tremendous strain. The council would like to work as quickly as possible to get that property sold and back on the tax roll.”

Chief Financial Officer Dan Rodin said the money to cover the costs at Watson Island is coming from the City’s surplus, not its reserves.

“Last year the City managed to get in the black. Our financial statements aren’t quite finished, but they will be presented to council in three or four-weeks time. There is a small surplus there that we are drawing down to pay for the pulp mill expenditures,” Rodin explained.

Larry Golden asked about funds received by the City from CityWest and Chances Casino and was told by Rodin the City received $1 million from CityWest in 2009 and anticipates received the same amount in 2010. The City received $425,000 from Chances in 2009 and has budgeted for $400,000 in 2010.

Rodin explained when the Museum of Northern B.C. sold half of its building to the Kitkatla Band, the City received approximately $1.3 million dollars from the sale. “That money is not part of our surplus, but will be used to pay down the debenture when it becomes due.”

Originally the agreement with the museum was that the City would lend money to the museum board to buy the building. At the same time. the City entered into an agreement to pay the museum approximately $198,000 a year as a grant.

 “The balance at the end of this year of the outstanding loan between the City and the museum is approximately $600,000. We should only be paying the grant to the museum for another three and a half years,” said Rodin.

 If the museum hadn’t sold half the building, Rodin said, it would have taken another 15 years to pay off the debenture.

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