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REPORTING · 11th December 2013
Walter McFarlane
Kitimat City Council held their first of two budget meetings for the week on Monday, December 9th. The purpose of the meeting was to receive several presentations from staff concerning the 2014 budget. The meetings began around 6:40 following a closed session.

“Tonight the staff will be presenting their departmental budgets. Similar to last year, each manager will highlight the changes and important items that Council should be aware of in their operations, as well as touch upon the list. This year, the staff are presenting a balanced budget under the direction of a 3% increase, similar to the 2013 budget. 2014’s focus will be geared towards capacity building and less on capital. The reason for this is simple, the impacts on development are being felt now. Our planning department is a good example of this, as we have tripled the number of planners on staff. Council now meets weekly in response to the activity that is being seen in this area. Additionally, this past year, we saw projects such as the down town sidewalks not proceed because of a lack of bidders. This trend sees no sign of easing so we must reconsider how we put these projects out,” said CAO Ron Poole.

Poole stated the goal for the night was for Council to approve a provisional budget for each department’s operation. At a later meeting, Council will be asked to pre-approve capital projects so they can go out for bidders. A final budget will be approved in the spring.

Municipal Treasurer Steve Christiansen was the first to present to Council. He explained they were aiming for a 3% increase in the budget. They have an estimated $1,439,072 surplus from 2013. He explained a part of it was left over from 2011, and another because they were expecting to spend less money in the snow clearing this winter. It’s also estimated that revenues from recreation will be up this year.

He went through the budget briefly showing where costs were going up and explained their planned expenditures for 2014 are $22,628,236. He broke down the increases and decreases for Council, explaining many of these changes will be presented to Council over the next three meetings.

Councillor Phil Germuth wanted to know what the Building reserve was for, whether it was for building replacement or something else. He was told there was about $2.5 million in it, and they would be drawing money from it to finish the Tamitik Roof.

Christiansen explained the budget was already balanced for Council’s approval. The department heads pre-screened the budget and took many projects off of the list. For Council to put a project back on, they have to take something off. Due to the changes going on in Kitimat, they could not stick to a 2% increase in each budget.

Poole went into Council’s budget, joking about how they were two years into their term and they should know what they are doing by now. He explained Council’s initiatives were budgeted to be lower than in 2013, when there were two items which drove it up. These items were moving the Council Chambers to the College and Kitimat’s 60th Anniversary. He stated they do not expect these to have an effect on 2014.

Legal fees are expected to be up this year though, because of negotiations which the District is having with the First Nations and the various industries. This offsets the money saved by Council.

Deputy CAO Warren Waycheshen took over the meeting to present on several topics. The first was Corporate Administration. He explained he is responsible for providing advice on bylaws, policies, operations, procedures, freedom of information and the elections ($15,000 has been put aside for this year).

He moved into Animal Control. In 2013, they increased their ability to designate and put conditions on dangerous dogs, implemented an incentive to spay / neuter and microchip pets and for 2014, the Humane Society has requested additional staffing and training.

Waycheshen explained the workers at the shelter were doing a lot of work and are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The district has budgeted for Maryanne Ouellet, 2 full time Shelter workers and 1 Animal Control Officer. He stated this doubles the amount they were getting.

“Are you sure that’s going to work because they are so overworked now, it’s not even funny. If they lose one full time position,” said Mayor Joanne Monaghan.

Waycheshen stated he worked it over with Ouellet. They compared this funding of the Animal Shelter to other communities and expect it to work.

On the Crematorium, Waycheshen explained they have spent time looking at the revenues and expenses to see if it is worth putting one in Kitimat. Councillor Mario Feldhoff made a motion to have staff stop investigating the crematorium.

“What was presented at the previous meeting was that the Terrace Facility, after being down for many months is up and running,” said Feldhoff. “Given that we’ve increased the operations budget for the animal services by several thousand dollars, I think it’s reasonable that we make use of the Terrace facility given the real pressure on our capital budgets.”

He suggested looking at it next year. Councillor Mary Murphy agreed. She stated there are crematorium’s which are energy efficient, environmentally friendly and with an extended life. She was not certain the Terrace crematorium was up and running. She wanted to know just how much Terrace was charging for cremation. She did not want to see dogs going into the cemetery in plastic bags. She was told this was not the case as any animal which was euthanized in Kitimat was going to Terrace for cremation. The motion was called and carried.

Waycheshen moved into transit services. It includes the Handi Dart, The Skeena Regional Connector and the Airport Transit Subsidy. The expenses are expected to be $601,000, which is down from $608,000.

The Handi Dart is getting more money because maintenance is up and ridership has been down. Waycheshen explained several of the regulars have moved from the community or have been unable to use the service.

Councillor Rob Goffinet stated there is a concern with the Handi Dart shutting down during the evening when cultural events take place. He suggested operating the Handi Dart as a taxi. Waycheshen told him Kitimat had a longer service than most communities, we run until 7:00 P.M. while most of the other Handi Dart’s in the Province shut down at 4:00.

BC Transit has resisted changes because the driver is going to need a break at some time and this would increase the cost per hour. Feldhoff stated there was a type of cab which could accommodate people in wheel chairs. He wanted to know if the vehicle was an alternative to a bus with a lift. He was told the bus was the only vehicle in town right now.

Goffinet suggested they could put together a subsidy for evening cultural events if this vehicle existed. Feldhoff considered putting it forward to the Persons with Disability Commission.

The future of the Skeena Regional Transit is uncertain because Northern Health is considering reducing their contribution from $160,000 to $80,000. The District of Kitimat is one of the 6 funders of this program.

“They originally put their funds in so people can go back and forth for medical purposes They’ve seen that that’s not a huge use for it so over the next four years, they’re scaling their contribution from $160 down to $80,000,” said Waycheshen.

Monaghan wanted to know what the cost to travel to Terrace was. Councillor Rob Goffinet said it was $4 for an adult, but it could be reduced by having tickets or a monthly pass.

Waycheshen had one more item: the social development strategy. He explained what they are thinking of doing is taking money from a reserve put aside for social purposes. Councillor Edwin Empinado asked if there was provincial money. Poole said there is funding from the ministry to cover Official Community Plans, Social Strategy and Recreational plans.

“At this point, anything you can get from the Province, you try and take,” said Poole. “Working with that, anything we can shift out of this budget to… it looks like the province and NDI are coming up with some program for us to be covering our costs on this.”

The last item is the hedge of the cemetery. Waycheshen stated the trees are being removed from the edge of the cemetery over the winter and the District plans on putting a hedge between the cemetery and the other properties to shield the cemetery from those properties.

Rose Klucas from Economic Development was next. She stated most of the budget was in the personnel and they now have enough personal to meet with two developers at the same time. She explained Kitimat is a member in Westat and NCDC and these are the two most expensive memberships.

She proposed that Council take the money from the pocket earmarked for Retire in Kitimat. She suggested using some of it to promote retirement and use it for a Business Retention and Expansion Program.

Germuth asked about the business retention program for $30,000. “It can mean a lot of different things. I don’t have a full plan in place. I know what it means is working with the individual businesses and for some businesses, they may not realize themselves what they can do to make the best of this offer,” said Klucas.

Some examples are suggesting businesses open later on a Friday night, helping them decide what their target market is, providing them with tools to run their business and pointing them in the right direction. Councillor Corinne Scott suggested offering to help them with their customer service and training would not hurt either. Klucas stated there are a lot of new businesses in town and some businesses could use some encouragement at this time.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan stated some businesses should be advertising.

One of the other plans for the year is the redesign of the District of Kitimat Website by their IT person. The District of Kitimat will host it in house. This will make changes will be quicker and costs will be reduced significantly.

Fire Chief Trent Bossence was next. He said 2013 was a good year for the fire department. For 2014, they will try to get through as many of the recommendations as they can from their Fire Underwriters Survey, and can meet 14 of the 27 recommendations with their budget plans. They are asking for a 2% increase to cover inflation. Otherwise, there is not much change to the operating budget.

The goal is to maintain their current public fire protection classification, build on fire prevention, work closely with the large scale industrial sites to develop a clear understand of the risk levels to the community and continue to provide a level of serve that both Mayor and Council and the community expect.

Goffinet asked if they get calls to the RTA Camp. Bossence replied they go out there to medical calls on a regular basis. They also do fire inspections and building compliance. There are people who stay in the camp want to make sure they are fire safe.

For supplemental, the Fire Department are looking to upgrade their communications system in and around the fire department, install a vehicle exhaust extraction system in the last remaining bay and replace the old canopy. Monaghan jokingly asked if they were not trying to grow moss on it. Bossence stated it is tough to find workers to do it.

Feldhoff asked if anyone was using the former Council Chambers as a cold weather shelter. Bossence replied there was an opportunity on Saturday which no one took advantage of. Empinado stated the former chambers are being turned into an Emergency Operation’s Centre. Bossence stated he has some computers to go in there but he does not want to spoil the surprise just yet. Bob McLeod’s Office has been moved in behind the EOC.

Empinado wanted to know if the fire department was fully staffed. The reply was they do. However, they are planning to hire another deputy as that will meet a recommendation of the Underwriter survey.

Planning was next and Daniel Martin took the microphone. “We do engagement with a variety of stakeholders. We handle inquiries from developers, from the community, from people in statistics, land use, site selections, land use regulation. We handle a wide array of zoning applications, from zoning to board of variance to temporary use permits,” said Martin.

He stated they have had to hire two new staff members. He explained the property market boom is taking up a lot of their time. They are supporting industrial projects, rejuvenating older housing stock, put climate change initiatives into the OCP and working with the Haisla First Nation.

They are sending and receiving more emails, have more hits on their website and have had 214 inquires in 2013, which has increased from 64 in 2012. He expects that many of these inquires will result in more applications in 2014.

They expect they are going to need increased hours in 2014 and are asking for more money to increase salary and wages. The priorities for 2014 include having an illustrated zoning code, development at Mountainveiw square and improvements to walkways and Wakashan in City Centre. Finally, they will be preparing for an update to the OCP.