It’s back to the drawing board for the City of Prince Rupert’s when it comes to the 2014 budget after council failed to pass the previously recommended 1.2 per cent tax increase.
When it came time to vote on the budget bylaw, councillors Barry Cunningham, Gina Garon and Joy Thorkelson once again voted in favour of the increase while Mayor Jack Mussallem joined councillors Anna Ashley and Nelson Kinney in opposing the tax increase. Councillor Judy Carlick-Pearson, who had previously supported the idea, was absent and the result was a tie vote that effectively defeated the motion.
Council will now meet on Wednesday to determine how to proceed with the budget, followed by another meeting next Tuesday to vote on the recommended bylaw.
But before casting his opposition votes, Mussallem outlined some areas he would like to see addressed in the budget planning for future years. In particular, Mussallem said he would like to see council reduce community enhancement grants by 10 per cent and seek a way to reduce how much money the city pays to the Skeena – Queen Charlotte Regional District.
“I am inclined to believe, until proven otherwise, that the tax payers of Prince Rupert are paying too much to the regional district,” he said.
“We are certainly paying too much for the services that are being offered down there.”
Mussallem noted that Prince Rupert pays for approximately 70 per cent of the administration costs of the SQCRD and in the past three years have given the group an additional $79,000 to pay for administration. He said something needs to change to better distribute the cost of running the regional district.
“I am well aware of the administration costs the city pays for communities in the regional district, while I don’t want to single out any one community, such as Sandspit. It would not be unreasonable to levy another $1,500 per month from Sandspit to help pay administration. It is not much, but that $18,000 per year would help offset the $79,000 the city has had requisitioned over the past three years,” he said.
Coun. Ashley, who sits on the regional district, didn’t disagree with those comments.
“Do we pay more than we should? I am not going to argue that, we do. But it is not the fault of the regional district but of the legislation that puts them in that situation … that is part of the problem with regional districts. Bigger communities in the regional district pay more because or reproportioning,” she said, noting the extra money does give the city a weighted vote on financial matters.
“The city gets seven out of 15 votes on budget items, so there are eight others around the table. So even if we disagree with something, we can get outvoted.”
Outside of the regional district, Coun. Cunningham said it is time other communities in the area begin contributing more to help cover the amenities Prince Rupert offers.
“From the City of Prince Rupert perspective we provide services to the region, like the airport and recreation facilities, that communities use but don’t pay a dime for. That is a thorn in my side … it’s similar to what is happening with the port. We are getting short-changed on a lot of things,” he said, with Mayor Mussallem in agreement.
“If we get even one of the projects proposed going ahead … the status quo won’t be acceptable to anyone,” he said.