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REPORTING · 28th February 2010
Walter McFarlane
Kitimat City Council met Saturday, February 27th for their third of three budget and, once again, not present was Councillor Gerd Gottschling.

Right at the start, Councillor Mario Feldhoff went through the list taking away money for a lift for the Kitimat Museum and Archives which would make the museum more accessible but was worth $100,000 and a motion to not refurbish the outside of the museum were passed. Rejuvenating Centennial Park, by removing decaying infrastructure for $500,000, was also removed from the budget as was Haisla Boulevard’s Linear Park improvements and the downtown beautification project.

These cuts took the increase from just over 19% down to 8.82% or an average tax increase of $82.04 per household.

Monaghan was getting snippy throughout all of these debates. “Our volunteers can do all the fundraising,” exclaimed Monaghan in response to the Museum lift. During the Firehall landscape discussions about a tree which is causing problems, Monaghan stated: “Why can’t they do it themselves, take a saw and cut it down? We want everyone else to do everything around here, why can‘t they.” Finally during the downtown beautification project, she said: “You know, right now, we have a whole group of volunteers that want to do stuff like that, maybe we could…” before she was cut off by Hall. Hall reminded her volunteers cannot change street lights. “You never know, look what they’ve done with the animal shelter.” she retorted

Councillor Richard McLaren raised a point of order. “I think we’re starting off this morning very argumentative.”

Monaghan: “No we’re not, I just…”

McLaren: “You just demonstrated that Madam Mayor.”

Monaghan: “Ok, but I didn’t even recognize you sir.”

Considering the Recreation budget, Councillor Feldhoff moved to approve the Senior Citizen Programmer, which was carried. Martin Gould was then called up to go through a few of the items from the Recreation Department. Council agreed to keep the video camera replacement for the Riverlodge Cardio Room, but the cardio room floor replacement and TV system went. A new item, fire separations for the senior’s bunkhouse stayed along with several other ones. Feldhoff then put forward a motion to deny the replacement of the Riverlodge heat ramp trace, to which his fellow Councillors agreed.

Councillor Randy Halyk asked Council to agree to the Riverlodge Community Room refurbishing, replacing the walls and the wall paper in the community room for aesthetics. The motion failed but was later revised to a pass. The family change room, accessible lift and surveillance cameras for the pool were approved, while landscaping the area around the pool had its budget reduced from $250,000 to $100,000.

Tamitik’s ice glass replacement and permanent ladder to the dehumidifier were removed because these were things which were considered niceties. Replacing a condenser, which has leaks, raised a discussion on whether it was a good idea but was eventually approved. Council was reminded that once the Kitimat Ice Rink was mothballed, if the current condenser went, they would have downtime.

At this point in the budget discussions, City Manager Trafford Hall showed where they were for 2011; an average of 22% increase or $205 per average household. He estimated there could be a 25% percent tax increase for 2011 because there are some factors the spreadsheet does not account for.

After a quick break further items were passed; assessable doors, a propane sensor and repairing the Northwest Storage sidewalk at the arena, while replacing the meeting room floor was deferred. Replacing dressing rooms in the arena was reduced to only one of the three and then a new item hit the list, the compressor replacement for Tamitik. Feldhoff wanted a history of this purchase as this was the first time the compressor was brought to the Council's attention. Gould explained this was not an issue prior to mothballing the ice rink as money had been set aside to replace a 45 year old compressor in KIR. He does not wish to replace a unit until he is told the other one is about to fail and he simply wanted to maintain the reserve and this was approved.

Council next moved on to outdoor expenses. There was a lot of discussion about what to do with the Totem Pole in Centennial Park. Monaghan stated they could not take the pole down without consultation. Hall suggested studying the issue and bringing it back. Monaghan added they should find out what the Haisla wanted to do with the pole. Feldhoff suggested they should create a rainy day fund for projects left by the way side. Hall said the money in the rainy day fund had to be specific projects. The concern is it might go down, on its own, at the worst possible time. The item was removed from the budget.

Council went over the campground improvements. Radley is getting funds, Hirsch Creek is not. Then came a non chemical weeding machine. They do not use chemicals at this time. Halyk made a notice of motion to not use chemicals in weed control. District Engineer Tim Gleig explained there was a bylaw making it onerous to not use chemical weed control in public areas. However, the Provincial Government already has rules in place. The weeder was removed from the budget.

Hanging baskets on Haisla Boulevard came up for discussion next. The beautification project was removed. Replacing the play structure at Riverlodge was the next item. It was deferred. The council went in camera and when they returned, the increase was down to 6.18% or an average of $57.51. Money to update the Official Community Plan was deferred at this time. “$40,000 every time something changes?” asked Halyk. It was cut from the budget and Council broke for lunch.

Council got back from lunch and entered into the topic of engineering. Road Maintenance for 2010 was deferred while the Walkway Program carried on ahead.

The Council went over the increase for 2011. The average was 18.50% or $172 per average taxpayer. For 2010, the percentage was now 2.02% or $18.81 per average taxpayer. Feldhoff suggested revisiting the viability study.

The Council discussed what was left with money provided from Eurocan for their closure. They discussed Margaret Sanou’s project to attract seniors to the community, the Animal Shelter and the Eurocan Viability Study. On that topic, Bob Corless stated he would not mind putting the money aside but he did not want her group doing work Council has already done.

Halyk pointed out Sanou’s group was part of an economic development model and economic development did more than just industry. After discussion on their options, with Halyk wanting to change the item to community development, they moved on.

The Council took a few minutes to regain their bearings. Feldhoff wanted to know if there was any amount of money the Council would feel comfortable donating to the Animal Shelter. Corless moved $50,000. He hoped this money would get it to the point where they could open it. Halyk maintained his concerns. He was not in favour of it and saw this as an opportunity for the community group to go get the money on their own.

Feldhoff preferred more than $50,000 and reminded council there was still $75,000 tabled. It was better than giving them nothing, he claimed. McLaren agreed; they had to get the ‘thing’ open. Councillor Rob Goffinet did not think this amount would get them closer than the other amount. He suggested tabling this until the end of the meeting. He was told they were at the end.

Goffinet suggested putting animal welfare onto their books. He suggested transferring the money from the video surveillance to give to animal shelter so they can open. Hands shot up. Feldhoff suggested approving 50, then motion for another 75. Corless withdrew his motion. Halyk’s hand was still up. He asked if this money was brought forward, he wanted to know where the money was going.

The tabled motion returned to the table with an amendment from Goffinet to take the money from the surveillance cameras. This would give them the money without increasing the money on the table. McLaren commented on being between a rock and hard place and having to choose between two projects he supported. The amendment and the motion were carried with Halyk opposed. Animal Shelter Yes, Video surveillance, No.

Monaghan asked if they could get the safety cameras from the Olympics. Trafford Hall had not inquired, so Monaghan said she will look into it. The Council managed to get the tax increase down to 1% for this year.

Municipal Manager Trafford Hall stated the Council has done a good job of bringing down the impact for 2011 before Council took a five minute break. Before moving on, the topic of the Mount Elizabeth Theatre light board came up. Monaghan made the motion to approve it, which was carried.

But Council was not done…

The decision, which was now before Council, was when they gather the funds. Feldhoff wanted to see the increase phased in over the two year period. Halyk reminded Council the smelter workers wanted more taxes. McLaren figured people in town are ready for this. A motion was made to raise the increase to full amount this year by putting money into reserves for next year. Feldhoff was opposed because they did not have to raise it all this year.

The question was asked: what if the plant reopens later in the year? The response? They can lower taxes in 2011, an election year, and look like heroes. The money would go into projects deemed important by City Council for 2011. Feldhoff reminded Council assessments were up and some people would be hit hard. The retort was: people were going to leave the community, forcing a greater tax burden on whoever is left. The motion was called and carried; the full amount would be raised in one year, Feldhoff was opposed.

They moved on to putting money into reserves. Feldhoff made a motion to create a capital reserve for a cell block. The motion was carried. Next, money went into the vehicle and equipment reserves. A motion was made to put money into a trail reserve. This failed. Then came a motion for a road maintenance plan. This motion was carried and Council moved into tax allocations. This brought the increase to 20%.

Still they were not finished. All user fees were held over from 2009 levels. After a joke from Councillor Halyk, the increase was reduced to 19.99%. They looked at the apportioning of the taxes. Hall explained the origin of industrial taxation in Kitimat. Hall stated they could defer this.

Hall ran some numbers for the councillors. According to those numbers, the decreases made by the council have covered the loss of Eurocan in 2011. The motion to keep the proportion the same was carried.

Goffinet wanted to know what they had done? After further discussion, he wanted to know how much they had cut. They estimated Council had cut $838,000 from operations for this year and 1.4 million for next. The ball park figure for an average Kitimat home would see a $186 increase from last year. The average low range house would see a $41 increase while the average high range home would see a $220 increase.

Mario Feldhoff requested a chance for a sober second thought on some of the plans. They still have some work ahead of them when the meeting adjourned. “Well done gang, we’ve got a good plan,” said Hall.

If you wish to engage in these discussions, municipal elections are not too far away.
Comment by Larry Walker on 1st March 2010
Your council has made some tough decisions over the past three days, many of which I tend to agree with....others I disagree with.

I wish to make the following observations. First this process should have started the day the pulp mill announced its closure and should have continued in an orderly fashion right up to March 15 (the day it is to be implemented). This would have allowed to more intelligent debate of each item. Second, I feel you have yet to "bite the bullet" on cost a nut shell Kitimat cannot afford a cadillac service anymore when it comes to fire/paramedics. Reality dictates that this big ticket item must be brought in line with you decreasing population and their ability to pay increased taxes. Just a suggestion but you might want to look at some sort of "joint venture" with your neighbour Terrace in order to keep the level of service closer to what it is now. Failing that then you must return to a full time/volunteer service.