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$600 million infrastructure deficit - Prince Rupert needs cash

Part 1 of 2 - Mayor’s State of the City’ addresses challenges
Two mayors, Lee Brain of Prince Rupert and Knut Bjorndal came together to announce the setting aside of nearly 40 years worth of municipal differences to move forward together into the future. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

A joint announcement by two Northcoast mayors that nearly 40 years of municipal head butting were being set aside under new agreements for Prince Rupert and Port Edward to work in partnership toward a stronger future closed out the State of the City address on June 28.

Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain invited Knut Bjorndal, mayor of Port Ed. onto the stage at the Lester Centre at the end of his last public address to residents of the city before the October elections in which Brain has chosen not to run.

“We wanted to make sure that the community knew that we have solved what I believe is a 40-year issue between Port Ed and Prince Rupert,” Brain said.

“What we wanted to announce tonight was that we’ve come up with a framework now to move forward together. It’s a four-part agreement. One part is the Ridley Island tax sharing agreement, the other one is about working together, mutual aid, fire agreements, water agreements, but one of the most important parts of it is a component which we call ‘moving forward’. And so what we’re looking to do together now is to start jointly developing the region …”

“We have all kinds of opportunities right now. Both communities needed to sort out some of the stickiness from an agreement from 1981 that has put us at odds for all these years, which I think at this point, we have now overcome that challenge,” The Prince Rupert mayor said.

Residents heard Brain explain during the two and half hour presentation, the challenges for the city, which include a $600 million infrastructure deficit for roads, wastewater, water, and community assets, the need for $20 million per year operating revenue, as well as updates on RCMP building, housing, child care, water treatment plans, and forward optimistic projections for the city.

A more than $90 million injection is needed to repair all roadways in the city, which were built incorrectly using salt-based products that decay the underlying piping or with hog fill, he said.

“Every road needs to be ripped up. It all needs to be done from scratch,” Brain explained, adding repairs being completed are just patchwork with between $6m to $9m required after repairs for upkeep and maintenance.

“The truth is, like I said, we need $90 million, at least to do some big projects for the road. So that’s just something I think the community needs to hear. This isn’t a bad planning thing for the city. This isn’t a budgeting issue for the city. This is just what it is. And that’s going to be probably one of our biggest challenges moving forward is raising that kind of capital without burdening the taxpayer.”l

Speaking of the recent McBride St. road and water main repair, Brain said it costs $1 million for every 100 metres of repair.

Wastewater treatment was addressed at a $200 million cost. Brain told the audience that 13 outflows running directly into the ocean must be capped under a federal mandate. The city has received an extension until 2030, but as the lines need twinning with sewer and storm lines, he said it is a massive undertaking.

On a positive note, the mayor said, under operations manager Richard Pucci’s guidance, the city may have found a more workable solution with a new wastewater wetland pilot project, previously reported in The Northern View on Feb. 9. If the pilot project is successful, the city could see up to 11 more wetland projects in various areas of town.

The new dam is officially complete at the end of July, Brain said, with the city converting back to its primary water source in the next few weeks. One hundred-year-old above-ground pipe replacement was the project’s first phase completed in 2018, with new water supply lines being dug underground. Once the phase two dam is complete, phase three of engineering, design and construction of a “top of the line, state of the art, best on the planet” water filtration system will be started, the mayor said.

Bringing to the forefront a new topic that hasn’t been discussed yet, is a new fire hall, the municipal leader said.

The current firehouse was built in the 1950s and requires seismic upgrades because the structure is not to current standards. As well, when new fire trucks need to be ordered they need to be constructed to specs because regular market units do not fit inside the firehall garage.

“We have a lot of industrial growth actually happening as well as discussions with industry that they’re going to need more fire suppression opportunities. So fire emergency service is going to be a big part of this community’s growth. And we need to set up for the future.”

“The reason why I’m putting all this [challenges] first is that none of this has anything sexy about it. There’s nothing fun about it. There’s nothing exciting about it. This is just the weight of this town, and I’m hoping you feel the weight that we feel sometimes,” the mayor said.

Housing is a challenge for the city, which needs to build between 200 to 300 housing units per year for eight years to meet the projected city population of more than 19,000 people in 2030 and continue industry growth.

“If we don’t start developing a couple of hundred units per year, there is no room. The port is not going anywhere, these projects will not expand, there is nowhere for people to live,” he said

“… That has already happened, and there are workers coming in from Terrace to Stewart to work at DP World. They’ve already cannibalized the entire workforce as a town, there’s no one else to tap. We’re actually in a bad problem that way. And unless we massively expand housing, to be able to recruit and retain new people to the community … we are going to be stuck on the expansion process.”

“We need cash. Why don’t we have cash? Why? Well, we don’t have cash because we’re not allowed to collect cash actually. The provincial government stops us from collecting money from the industries. It is absolutely frustrating that we have a handcuff on the community, that we can’t grow this community because we have a handcuff that has been placed on us.”

Mayor Brain made his displeasure very clear regarding lost revenues due to the Port Property Tax.

“This challenge, the Port Property Tax Act, is the number one reason why this community is stuck. We are stuck. And we’re not allowed to be free. Our one legislative right is taxation. That’s the only mechanism we’re allowed to have under the Local Government Act in the community charter is to collect money through taxation.

Under the marine export industry, only $22.50 per $1000 assessment is permitted to be collected, with asset depreciation, the amount reduces every year unless there is investment.

Mayor’s Solutions to the challenges - More to come …