Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain is “cautiously optimistic” of the city’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the anticipated rebound once the crisis is over.
“… (I’m) cautiously optimist that we’re going to make it through here, in a way that doesn’t have to cut services to this community or raise taxes on residents, and we’ll be able to support everybody as best as we can,” Brain said, at the city council meeting on April 27, in his mayor’s report to council.
The City has been working with all the regional First Nations, located in Lax Kwala’ams, Metlakatla, Kitkatla, Haida Gwaii, and Central Coast. More communication has been occurring between the regional leaders, in an effort to stay connected and to make sure emergency efforts are organized throughout the area, Brain said.
“We’re at the point where we’re starting to focus on the recovery of the community. No one can know for sure how long we’re going to be in this situation for, we know that potentially there’s another wave in the fall coming,” Brain said.
While the City has seen income losses during the pandemic, Brain said that revenue diversification is assisting with supporting the community.
“On one hand, we’ve had revenue losses, and on the other hand we’ve also seen some cost savings, but also now we’re able to get some support in from Watson Island, to support our city’s budget.”
Brain pats the City on its back for the foresight used in 2015 to develop Watson Island from being a $90,000 per month liability, to a profit-generating development with revenues aiding the City in keeping taxes lower for residents.
“We knew that relying solely on property taxes alone, to fund the municipality, wasn’t going to be a long-term solution and there’s many gaps and barriers to property taxes for sole funding. And so now we’re able to diversify our revenue and now we’re seeing through this pandemic that it is coming back to support the community,” Brain said.
Some support for local residents and businesses comes with the zero per cent tax increase for this year, and from the lowered taxes last year of two per cent.
“(This)means that most residents in this community will be paying less tax compared to what they were two years ago. And I think that’s a really good news story for Prince Rupert, because not every community gets to say that right now,” Brain said, pointing out that everything will be re-assessed at a later-in-the-year budget meeting.
“I do know that we will be looking at another budget meeting again, later this year because nothing is certain, but for now, we are able to move forward with supporting the community financially, at a 0% rate, and it’s still able to move forward with things on our budget.”
This is the year for paving according to Brain, who said the budget for road works has more than doubled from $400,000 to $1 million plus. As well, money has been set aside for infrastructure, the RCMP detachment expansion project, landfill expansion and phases two and three of the waterworks project.
Some projects in the Redesign Rupert initiative may be delayed, while others are still going ahead.
“The whole strategy here has been to move Rupert forward into becoming what we know can be a community that supports everybody, as well as port workers, as well as all of our residents, and the key fundamental piece is housing,” Brian said in his report.
A planned recruitment and retention campaign, between city businesses, port companies, and operators to attract and assist people in moving to P.R. has been put on hold due to changing priorities.
“You can’t bring people to Prince Rupert unless we have housing for people, so, the biggest priority we have right now is affordable housing … market housing, all kinds of housing,” Brain said.
“We need to drastically increase the amount of housing we have in this community to be able to not only attract new workers here, but also to be able to provide new units for local residents that need affordable units to live in.”
In his report, Brain said he thinks there’s some good news coming for the region. With Tourism Prince Rupert, Chamber of Commerce, and the City’s Economic Development Office teaming up together to create an economic recovery process for businesses in the community, the City is also working on items such as local procurement and assistance for local businesses.
“So, all-in-all I think we’re getting to a place where we’re able to start balancing the issues that we have through the pandemic but also that we’re going to be able to keep on track with some of our initiatives, like housing and our infrastructure.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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