The first few punches have been thrown between Prince Rupert and Port Edward over the Ridley Island Tax Sharing Agreement.
Municipal elections debates between candidates has turned into a public debate between neighbouring communities over a deal made 37 years ago.
The tax sharing agreement signed in 1981, has Prince Rupert pay Port Edward 20 per cent, or approximately $600,000 – $900,000 in taxes, from industry at Ridley Island.
After Port Edward candidates raised the issue at the debate on Oct.9, Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain responded online, airing out the negotiation process.
“Just so you’re clear and everyone is clear, we have gone through in the last four years five facilitators from the province, one mediator, as well as a fully commissioned B.C. government report on top of an auditor general’s report. We have done absolutely everything in our power to be reasonable, to be fair, to extend multiple different types of offers, and at this point it’s a solid wall with no response, and then to have them chatting about it like that at their debate, to me, was just not fair,” Brain said to the Northern View on Oct. 11. “It’s time for the community to know, from our end, that this is not fair.”
What raised his ire was the comment on Watson Island and the suggestion by candidate, James Brown, that Port Edward should share in the profits now that the former pulp mill site is decommissioned and profiting off its first project, a propane terminal by Pembina.
“They still collected millions of dollars through the roughest times of Prince Rupert and now at the end of it all they have the audacity to try somehow to suggest that they’re entitled to revenues of Watson Island due to impact, it’s like, I don’t know where they’re coming from anymore,” Brain said.
In 2017, $606,000 was allocated to Port Edward, according to the district’s statement of financial information, which contributed roughly 25 per cent toward the $2.38 million budget.
“We can’t be carrying another community,” Brain said.
He’s not saying that Prince Rupert wants Port Edward to get nothing. He just doesn’t believe the impacts of Ridley Island are worth $600,000 – $900,000 for the 467 people who live there (based on Statistics Canada’s most recent population data from 2016). When the deal was agreed upon in 1981, Port Edward had a population of 989, and Prince Rupert had a population of 16,197 (according to BC Stats).
“Let’s renegotiate it so it’s per capita and it makes sense,” he said.
Currently, there are 12,220 people living in Prince Rupert (Statistics Canada 2016 census), paying for $30.5 million in expenses for the recreation centre, water, roads, landfill, airport ferry, the police force and eventually the new $30-million RCMP detachment, etc.
From the 20 per cent, Port Edward does return three per cent of the Ridley Island Tax Share for the use of recreational facilities in Prince Rupert, but Mayor Brain says it’s not enough.
District of Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald stopped by the Northern View office in response to our request for comment.
“I’m not saying anything until after the election, and with direction from our council. It’s nothing for me to say. We’ve given our side 50 times,” MacDonald said.
The district’s five-year plan released this spring states that the Ridley Island Tax Share is expected to be the main source of revenue through 2022. Despite being a decades-old agreement, and despite it being considered unfair by Prince Rupert council, the deal was signed in perpetuity, meaning this arrangement could last indefinitely.
Three years ago, there was a breakthrough in the negotiation process.
In 2015, when the $36-billion Pacific NorthWest LNG project was considering investing in the North Coast, the neighbouring communities did agree to a two-year arrangement that saw Port Edward contribute $500,000 from the Ridley Island Tax Sharing Agreement, adding they would renegotiate at the end of 2017, or upon a final investment decision from Pacific NorthWest LNG.
The project didn’t happen. “When they failed, they said ‘no, too bad,’ and went completely against a written agreement. They committed to that in writing,” Brain said.
As the debate between communities has heated up online, there have been a couple comments, one from councillor Wade Niesh, on amalgamation. “It would be way cheaper for Rupert and in the end it would be fair for all residents. Truly working together!”
But Mayor Brain said he doesn’t think at this time anyone would have the appetite for amalgamation, particularly in Port Edward.
Where the disagreement goes from here is up to the new council after the Oct. 20 election. Mayor Brain, who was acclaimed to run for his second term, said he knows what the next steps are from here and it “won’t be fun for Port Ed and I don’t want to go down that road. It’s going to be legal, it’s not going to be fun and there’s no point to that.”
Before the situation gets legal, Brain’s next goal is to ask for a public debate.
“I’m asking whoever gets in, either they come to the table and we get an agreement, and if they don’t want to then they should come and publicly debate me in Port Ed and Prince Rupert, and then we can talk about it publicly on why they don’t believe we should be at the table,” he said.