Updated with missing link
The Kitimat City Council held a Committee of the Whole Meeting on Monday, January 18th in the conference room at the District of Kitimat Offices. Although there was not much on the adgenda, the meeting ran for two hours. A large part of the meeting was to provide scenarios where the council could save money or raise taxes in 2010/2011 if Eurocan closes. Not present was councillor Gerd Gottschling.
The meeting was called to order and there was a call for new business. Councillor Feldhoff wished to speak about the Olympic Flame and the viability of methanol in Kitimat and Mayor Monaghan had an update on Pytrade. Trafford Hall announced that Prayer Canada would be attending and an in camera item was not going to proceed.
The first order of business was an invitation from Prayer Canada to pray for the armed forces around the world on Saturday, January 30th at 3:00 pm at the City Center Mall. Mayor Joanne Monaghan added that Prayer Canada was not a political organization but they were inviting the council to join them.
Councillor Feldhoff wanted to ask about the Olympic Torch coming to Kitimat would be advertised. Martin Gould explained that there has been some advertising already. The flame will travel from Riverlodge to Shoppers. He stated that there will be some fanfare from the local youth who will have time off school. Our article on the subject can be found here
Councillor Feldhoff also had a notice of motion regarding setting aside money to have a third party determine if resuming production of Methanol and Ammonia at the Methenex Plant in Kitimat would be feasible.
Mayor Monaghan spoke about a visit from Erich Fussl this past weekend. He spoke with administration, council, KTIDS and Northwest Community College. He also took a tour of community. Fussl expressed that he was happy with everything. He is looking at four parcels of land. He also spoke about a pilot project with NWCC and the University of BC. She added that Kitimat was planned to be a showcase for his pilot project for North America.
The topic of the 2010 budget had been put off to the end of the meeting. Municipal Manager Trafford Hall stated that this year, they are going to try and get a budget through by the end of February. He stated that if the Eurocan mill does close, it’s no longer an industrial taxpayer. He added that they are going to look at oncoming increases and added 2% as an estimate. The best estimate was a 4.6 million shortfall.
There was some discussion over which rates would change as a result of Eurocan’s announcement. Hall explained that tonight was an information session so that council has a chance to think about what is coming up. He again said that their best estimate was a shortfall of 4.6 million in 2011. He suggested that they could increase taxes by 2% in 2010 and 29% in 2011.
He suggested that there were two limiting taxes. The first was to raise taxes or make cuts out of the hide of the organization. Hall stated that they were looking at the departments to look at reductions and present the potential cuts to council.
He put the $4.6 million on the board and looked at their options. Hall explained that this is planning for the worst, not as we can hope it could be. He discussed several topics including operations and capital expenses. He suggested that they might be going down to a bare bones organization and he wants council to be able to talk to their constituents and explain why.
Then the meeting broke into three presentations by members of administration presenting scenarios for cut backs and what affects they would have on the community. These were presented by the Fire Department, Recreation Department and Treasurer.
He called Fire Chief John Klie to step forward and speak to possible scenarios. Scenario 1 was to maintain the status quo. This would save $30,000. Scenario 2 would lower the budget by 4.12%. He explained that one method would reduce the amount of people who immediately respond to fire calls or by reducing building costs. That would save $110,000.
Option three would cut by not backfilling for calls until manpower was needed. This would affect ambulance service response time, but would save $209,000. The final scenario would be to reduce the Fire Department to a Volunteer Fire Department with the only paid positions being 6 officers. This could save about $1.3 million dollars. However, under that service, they would no longer be able to provide an ambulance service. This would drastically increase the amount of response time and would also increase the cost of home insurance. Councillor Feldhoff and Halyk were concerned about this figure because it would eliminate the savings to the tax payer.
Mayor Monaghan stated that although people would be willing to do without a lot of things, they would not settle for slow ambulance service. She suggested that with an aging population, council should be wary as to how much they cut from fire and ambulance service. There was further discussion on this topic. However, the discussion on cuts to the Fire Department was over.
Trafford Hall called Martin Gould, acting director of recreation for a similar discussion. Gould stated that for a community of our size, we have phenomenal recreation services. He suggested that one thing they could do to save money is close the Kitimat Ice Rink. This is because there are less adult hockey teams, minor hockey teams and figure skaters. But this would mean more early morning and more late sessions at Tamitik.
Closing Riverlodge earlier in the day is another option, and another possibility is reducing the hours of operation at both Riverlodge and the pool by one or two. He suggested closing the pool during the afternoon from 1-4 and closing the pool on Easter weekend because those are slow periods.
The topic of gardening came up next but Gould suggested that there was not much money to save there. Monaghan suggested an adopt a garden. Halyk liked the idea of replacing flowers with shrubs. Under outdoors, he suggested reducing trail maintenance in Kitimat and reducing service in Radley and Hirsch Creek or ending the wading pool programs which do not see much attendance unless a hot day comes along.
Beyond what was suggested, he suggested cutting programmers. It means not being involved in some programming opportunities. His list contained savings of approximately $650,900. Mayor Monaghan thanked him for the information and stated that they will continue to look into it from there.
Hall stated that they have looked at the maximum cuts to the services used by Kitimat citizens and that there will be more as they go through the budget process. He then wished to look at the option of raising taxes.
Taking the cost of the average house ($130,710) he calculated how much people would pay in taxes. He presented the cost to the taxpayer if they raised taxes. It showed that if Kitimat raised taxes 30%, it would only raise the average tax by about $250 per household. This tax of $1,308 is still less than everywhere else in the province including Terrace, Prince Rupert, Prince George, Powell River, Campbell River and Fort Saint John. But, if they did that, Rio Tinto’s taxes would significantly increase. Zoe Molder explained that Campbell River, who also lost an industry chose to raise taxes completely rather than cut services.
Then Councillor Feldhoff asked for an update on the court cases on industry taxation, Hall stated that all three had lost.
The next discussion concerned strategy. One option could be to raise taxes now rather than in 2011 because then council would build reserves for harder times again. Mayor Monaghan said that the townsfolk would hate that. Councillor McLaren joked about using this to get revenge on Eurocan for closing.
Councillor Mario Feldhoff reminded Hall that there was still a chance that the feasibility study might come back positive and they should wait for the proposal. Hall stated that they will bring back other ideas and develop a budget by the third week in February.
There was not much left to discuss and the public portion of the meeting quickly came to an end. Shortly after, council went in camera.