The City of Prince Rupert has tabled its budget process pending a meeting with the Prince Rupert Airport Authority and discussions with CityWest.
The motion to table came after Coun. Anna Ashley brought forward a list of suggestions to increase municipal revenues by approximately $1.2 million and use the accumulated surplus to provide a zero per cent tax increase.
Key among those recommendations was increasing the Digby Island ferry fare to cover the projected to be subsidized by taxpayers this year.
“Based on 60,000 passengers, if we increase the fare by $15 that would take care of the $900,000 subsidy … chances are with the increased economic activity there are going to be even more passengers in the future,” said Ashley, who also proposed an across the board five per cent increase on fees to generate approximately $50,000 as part of a move to user-pay.
“I’m trying to find a way to balance the budget sustainably. I am looking to balance the budget with increasing fees instead of taxes. They are both increases, but have different effects.”
Other suggestions included forgoing the annual Ketchikan trip and seeking more than the $250,000 dividend promised by CityWest this year.
“We need to push for a bigger dividend … if we don’t get the bigger dividend, we may need to look at a cost/benefit analysis of CityWest,” said Ashley, with Mayor Jack Mussallem in agreement.
“I know CityWest had their best year in three years, so perhaps we may want to push for a set amount … we may want to see if CityWest could provide a dividend of $350,000 or $400,000,” he said.
But councillors were reluctant to move ahead with making any decision on the airport ferry costs without first consulting the Airport Authority board, saying any increase could be quite detrimental to the operation.
“We’re losing a lot of leakage in passengers to Terrace and if we raise fees we will likely lose more to Terrace,” said Coun. Gina Garon, who made the motion to table the discussion until a meeting between the two groups could take place.
“For the average citizen to go from a $30 fee to a $45 fee, then extrapolate that to a whole family, may push people away,” said Mussallem.
Council is hoping to meet with the Airport Authority this week and to hold a special meeting of council next week to further discuss the budget.
As for the tax rate, chief financial officer Corinne Bomben changed her mind when it came to the 10.2 per cent tax increase recommended in her report to council included in the agenda. While Bomben wrote in the report that the 10.2 per cent option was “financially responsible” and that including the entire payment-in-lieu of taxes (PILT) from the port authority “could be overly optimistic”, Bomben recommended council adopt the option that included the full $1.675 million PILT payment and the elimination of two currently unstaffed RCMP positions that would result in a 3.281 per cent tax increase this year.
In making the decision, Bomben cited commercial and residential tax revenues rising since 2005 while industrial tax revenues have been declining since 2007.