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REPORTING · 27th February 2010
Walter McFarlane
Kitimat City Council met on Friday, February 26th for their second of three budget meetings. The following is an abridged account of the meeting and the topics presented within. Councillor Rob Goffinet called the meeting to order at 9:00 am. Mayor Joanne Monaghan would be late and Councillor Gerd Gottschling was not present.

Before we look at budget cuts, the Kitimat Daily would like to remind the readers nothing is set in stone until the budget is voted on at a public Council Meeting. As Municipal Manager Trafford Hall said during last Saturdays meeting, “No decision is final until the final Budget is passed, [...] the ultimate financial impact will be in 2011.”

CAW 2301 had a presentation they wished to give. Shaun, the business agent for 2300 and 2301 and Ed, vice president of 2301, told the Councillors they had consulted their members and were concerned about the fat to be trimmed from the community in the budget. They expressed they wanted an increase in property taxes and do not wish to see any members lose their jobs because of cutbacks.

The CAW representatives suggested cutting from the top or by building a city hall. Councillor Feldhoff said that salaries are based on other communities and they have looked at building a City hall in the past determining it would not be tax effective. He expressed they were looking at a balanced approach. Halyk stated he felt there was a lot of fat in the organization. He reminded them the district has a no layoff clause and the union had bargained for a pretty good contract.

Shaun refused to apologize for the bargaining table, adding there was a good wage from Rio Tinto as well but they made cuts where they saw fit and cut the workforce from 2000 to less than 1000. He added although they may see attrition at the public works yard, they were worried they would not see attrition at the offices. Councillor McLaren reminded them the Council had just taken a pay cut although it was probably $20.

Walter McLellan pointed out some of the people from the top have been lost due to attrition and municipal workers were highly paid. Feldhoff suggested Council could revisit certain other areas to cut. Ed pointed out the correct information needs to get out. Councillor Halyk stated there were many people in the community who just lost their jobs and asked: "How are they going to pay taxes"?

Hall explained they hear these comments to make cuts from administration all the time. They aren’t helpful but he thanked them for it. Asked if they were aware of what kind of tax increase it would take to maintain levels, he said the options were to raise taxes or cut services. He added that the members have the right to know what was being discussed and how much taxes would go up if they do not make cuts and assured them that no one would lose their job because of the cuts.

Feldhoff expressed he has heard concerns from around the community. McLaren thanked them because they represent a large part of the community. Rob Goffinet thanked them for coming.

After the CAW left the meeting continued where it left off on Thursday where the Planning department had the floor. Councillor Feldhoff asked about a planning assistant, cutting back hours and other ways of reducing the budget. Halyk brought up advertising fees. The policy is to publish ads in two issues of the printed newspaper.

Councillor Feldhoff moved they not cut the planning position because, as it is, they get complaints that things are taking long. If they want to get things done they should not change the workload. The motion was carried.

The topic of whether or not to cut the director's hours of work came next. The motion was to keep the director's hours as is. “The system works well right now and we’ve made the system work well. Let's not upset the apple cart,” said Hall. The motion was carried.

Councillor Halyk moved to not change the budget for advertising. Sewell said she could remove $1000 from the software budget; usually she did not spend that much. It was unanimous. The council talked about cost recovery. A motion was made to increase permit fees. The motion was called and carried. Mayor Monaghan arrived at the meeting and took over from Councillor Goffinet. They talked about cutting the statutory advertising. A motion to cut the advertising by $3000 was called and carried.

Dianne Hewlett of Economic Development came to the table. She stated her department expects an increase in inquiries for 2010 and admitted Kitimat competes with Prince Rupert for projects adding she was thinking of cutting some of the duratrans out of the Regional Airport. Hall suggested shuffling some of the accounts around to reduce a redundant account.

Councillor Corless asked why they needed economic development. Hewlett explained her position promotes Kitimat and provides information about the community. She stated Kitimat can not control entrepreneurs. Monaghan retorted that they do have control. Feldhoff wished to return to tabled motions from 2007 and McLaren agreed as there are a lot of different groups doing economic development in the District with little communication. Halyk suggested passing by this and looking back at it later, staying on the economic development discussions.

Feldhoff motioned to reduce planning, the duratrans, miscellaneous travel and so on; trim the department without gutting it. Halyk agreed that they could look at the numbers later. The motion was carried. Feldhoff asked about eliminating a position that retired last year. Hewlett said that her department works a lot of overtime and cutting the position would impact service. Feldhoff motioned to replace the position with a part time position. Hall suggested that the Council increase the retreat to two days rather than one and focus on economic development. Feldhoff recalled his motion. Monaghan saw economic development as important and did not want to see economic development cut at this time. They motioned to reduce a budget to purchase items between several departments. It was carried. Council carried on leaving the rest unchanged.

After a quick break, they moved into the finance department. Muldur talked about the travel and training budget claiming she won’t be doing either. Hall was concerned as 2 finance department employees, including the head, plan on retiring this year. Feldhoff moved not to change the budget. It was called and carried.

The manager's travel expense came next. Hall recommended cutting it; he’s working to reduce it anyway. He also recommended cutting the money for the Christmas party and other special expenditures. The motion was made to cut it and was carried. Feldhoff motioned to emphasize cross training for the budget.

The Visitor Information Centre was a potential cut as the contract with the Chamber for the visitor information service is up this year. Hall suggested tendering the Visitor Information Centre. They discussed whether or not to stay in visitor information or to tender the visitor information. The motion not to change it was carried.

RCMP was up next and a motion was made to reduce the force by two members. This will take a year as it will have to be negotiated. It was carried. Councillor Feldhoff moved to not cut janitorial hours, materials and supplies from the District owned buildings. He felt the buildings were well maintained however his motion failed. A second motion was made to adopt the cut which passed.

A motion was made to not cut scholarships. It was carried. The next item, where Council has been over contributing to a fund, received cuts. Council then went in camera. When they were finished, they broke for lunch and reconvened at 1:22 pm.

Kitimat Victim Services was the first on the list after lunch. Hall explained how Victim Services became funded by Council. McLaren made a motion to reduce their funding by 15%. The motion failed and Councillor Feldhoff, who was against the cut, made a motion to continue funding at the same level, which passed.

Under the Kitimat RCMP budget was the topic of hard body armour and cell retrofit. The hard body armour could be deferred for 2011 but they put money out. Feldhoff motioned to give them the Hard Body Armour, which was carried. The cell retrofit has to be done this year however Corless moved that it be deferred to 2011. McLaren agreed with deferring it by bringing up the safety level of the cells as there were other projects such as the animal shelter. “Pets before prisoners” joked one councillor while the Mayor suggested putting the prisoners in the cat cell. Halyk wanted to bite the bullet this year while they have money. The motion was negated. Feldhoff moved to fund 2 of the 5 cells this year and this was carried. Money for one more cell was left over from last year.

The motion came to reduce the Museum's operating budget by 10%, which was carried and Feldhoff moved to approve the museum’s prep room renovation. Hall reminded them this money was frozen and the motion to approve it was unanimous. Kitimat Arts for Youth will get their budget as will the theatre. The Councillors talked about the lights and decided to put it off until later.

Kitimat Understanding the Environment came up next. A motion was made to maintain the current funding. After some debate over revenues from recycling and the cardboard ban, the motion was passed.

The Kitimat Public Library was next on the list and Corless moved the 20% reduction. He suggested that Virginia Chiron had only looked at staff without looking at line items. Feldhoff felt 10% was a better cut as did Mclaren so the motion failed and Feldhoff moved a 10% reduction, which passed unanimously.

The Kitimat Flying Club’s motion for no cuts was carried. The Hirsch Creek Golf and Winter Club requested money and the Councillors debated on not putting money into the club as it was still running a deficit. The motion to maintain money was carried

The Kiitmat Emergency plan was the next item in the budget discussions, which was motioned, carried and brought them to the end of the partnership programs.

Engineering returned to the discussion table regarding revenues. After discussing various rate increases, Councillor Feldhoff suggested raising water rates over 2 years. This motion was carried. He then made a motion to create a user fee for people who use the sewers and make this fee similar to the water rates and this motion failed. Mayor Monaghan left the meeting to have her photo taken and Halyk made a motion to increase internment rates at the cemetery to cover the shortfall. The results of the motion are currently unknown and Goffinet suggested finding a way to remove non complying ornaments.

The Council talked about increasing building permit fees but Feldhoff moved to leave them the same as they wanted to attract people to the community. Halyk inquired about what requires a permit as Monaghan returned to call the question, it was carried, leaving the permit fees as is.

The budget spreadsheet came up on the projector screen and showed a 19.31% increase in taxes or an average of $179.07 per household. Hall went over the budget and explained the spreadsheet with the Council. He showed, with the cuts they have already made, they have saved $1,306,249 of the $4,000,000 total necessary, requiring another $2,693,751. He changed the numbers and showed that if things do not change, the 2011 increase will be 33.90% or $315.43.

Hall explained with the freeze they managed to save $450,000. Some items were marked as frozen items.

The Cuts began.

A motion was made to remove the modifications to the Public Safety Building and not buy the Fire Chief a pick up truck. The animal shelter came up. Several Councillors raised their hand for a motion. Feldhoff moved $100,000 for it. He said it would keep the project going and that they should spend it this year while they still have the assessment. Halyk thought this couldn’t go on longer and they should have the workers find the funds on their own. “We have spent nothing but money on this,” said Halyk.

Monaghan cut him off because he was expressing an opinion, but not the truth. Goffinet pointed out that this motion would raise the District's contribution to $680,000, meaning that 95% of the money for the project would come out of the District's budget. He wanted to know if they do that for every group in town that comes with a proposal. He wanted to say ‘either open the building 90% complete or fundraise’.

Feldhoff pointed out that Goffinet was looking at the cash and not what was donated in kind stating the animal shelter project has raised some funding in cash and some in kind. “It’s crazy not to allow them to finish this building at this time,” said Feldhoff.

Halyk stated the District should be inspecting the building and determining what the money is being spent on, regularly. Hall stated every time this was brought to Council, Council’s direction was to back off. McLaren said he had heard the District had made recommendations that increased the cost. Two items, the septic system needed to be checked and several items for insulation were brought up.

“Every time we would raise a bonified concern with this building […], we asked Council if they wanted to assume responsibility for animal welfare and we have never assumed that responsibility,” said Hall.

Corless refused to support the motion; they’ve put too much money into it. Monaghan asked what they would do with the building. Council replied it should sit there until they find the money, and Halyk suggested the lease should come down to a public inquiry. McLaren could not remember making a decision on scrutinizing the bills. The question was called. The motion to approve $100,000 was defeated as Goffinet, Corless and Halyk were opposed.

Feldhoff then motioned for $75,000, pointing out that this was a one time item. Monaghan suggested that they would be slapping the face of the people who were volunteering their time to the work. Halyk stated he helps at the current animal shelter. He suggested they give the animal shelter project a dollar to show support. McLaren agreed this was a very divisive issue and the motion was tabled.

Under economic development, Council moved to cut the Retirement Community Marketing Program request. McLaren wanted to know where the money was going before they cut a check. Halyk did not wish to throw money around “Willy Nilly.” Diane Hewlett stated that the introductory meeting was on Monday at 1:00 pm. They did not know much about the project and where the money was going. The cut went ahead.

A motion to approve an NDIT project was called and carried. McLaren pointed out that the money for the Eurocan feasibility study should be under pre-budget approval. There was also the question about the money Eurocan granted council. It had gone into a special account until council decided what to do with it. Monaghan informed the Council there was a letter that came with it stating they had to use it for economic development. McLellen added there should be no strings attached unless she signed something.

General government items were things frozen from last year and a motion was made to approve them. This included replacing the blinds in the main office, improving the audio in the Council Chambers, and improving the offices.
No suprise
Comment by Rory Brown on 9th March 2010
Wow, what a shock. Council makes another stupid decision on ways to spend the towns money. Why stop there. Why not a personal trainer. It will come in handy when we run you out of office.
Absolutely shocked by that last paragraph.
Comment by Sandra Capezzuto on 2nd March 2010
I can not believe that they would go ahead with something to benefit so few, and yet make cuts that will effect so many.

Redecorating their offices shouldn't even be a consideration at this time!