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COMMENTARY · 26th April 2010
Walter McFarlane

I will admit: I do not know what to expect at the City Council Meeting tonight. The topic, as presented is public consultation on the 2010 Financial Plan. This meeting rides on members of the public being there tonight to express their thoughts on the Financial Plan.

When Eurocan made their announcement, right away, Kitimat City Council was asked to start making cutbacks by their administration. Hiring, Purchasing and Travel took the hit so they could try and save money for 2011 when Eurocan’s taxes dropped from over $4,000,000.

Many motions were made at this meeting and despite what happened, in the months to come, there would be moments of confusion where Councillors thought a motion passed at this meeting meant something different then what they made.

These articles can be found: here, here, here, here, here and here.

The budget process began prematurely with departments making presentations to Council. The idea was to see how low they could bring their budget and what services would be lost if they took cuts between 5% and 15%. The results were not pretty.

The recreation department suggested changing their hours and close down the Kitimat Ice Rink. The Kitimat Public Library would have to change their hours and lose staffing. The RCMP and the Kitimat Fire Department would decrease their response time.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan stood firm against any cuts to the Fire Department and Ambulance Services. In some cases council accepted the cuts, in others they did not. During the lead up, we at the Kitimat Daily asked Council if there would be public consultation on the Budget. Municipal Manager Trafford Hall encouraged the people of Kitimat to attend the meetings and contact their councillors if they wished to comment on the budget process.

Council met for four all day meetings at the end of February. The first was an all day meeting on Saturday the 21st. During this time, administration presented their Capital Projects for 2010.

On the 25th of February Council met for their second budget sessions. The last of the Capital Projects were presented and right away, Council voted to shut down the wading pools and close Kitimat Ice Rink. Council also voted to set aside money to paint Haisla Bridge in 2012.

Cuts continued on day 2, 26th of February. The operating budget of the museum and the library were reduced by 10%. Items which could not be put off long such as the Jail Cell Retrofit were put off another year. The Animal Shelter project entered discussion at several points of the meeting. One Councillor even suggested: “Pets before prisoners.”

Day three, February 27th began with more cuts. Councillor Rob Goffinet suggested cutting off a project which was near and dear to Councils heart, the surveillance cameras, in order to feed the money into the animal shelter. The RCMP had taken a two member cut the previous day. The budget was down but not finished yet.

Council began to discuss other aspects and suggested putting money away for projects after they lose the Eurocan taxes. Hall suggested if Eurocan was saved, they’d be able to reduce taxes and all look like heroes in an election year. The tax increase ended at the Kitimat City Council Blue Plate Special: a 19.99% increase for the average tax payer.

Was the average tax payer happy? No. Over the next few weeks, people came to City Council to speak and wrote letters which were accepted, several of which without any comment on what the contents were. Mayor Joanne Monaghan even went on CBC Radio, insulted the people of Kitimat by saying they are all rich enough to own recreational vehicles and then misrepresented the incident when a former resident of Kitimat called her on it.

On April 12, Councillor Richard McLaren finally decided to get the public consultation on the Budget process, namely, the financial plan. On April 17th, Council met and discussed the financial plan and rescind 3rd reading. The meeting itself was a good discussion although it really served to change wording in the Appendix B document.

Which takes us to tonight. The public will finally have a chance to give the Council input on the financial Plan. Links are provided in the above article to key points of the budget process. Tonight is the night to go before Council and tell them what you think. We have been told it will not be televised so to see it take place, you have to be there.

The above is an abridged account of the last 6 months but there is still one more things to think about. I recall when people were concerned about the hospital, they crammed into a tiny room at Tamitik Arena to express their concerns to Northern Health and show their support for health care. I wonder how many people can fit into the tinier Council Chambers.