- Budget gets first reading
- Water rates flowing upwards
- Artists request visitor centre use
- Concerns linger on Finavera project
- B.C. mayors caucus
- Councillor’s comments
Budget gets first reading
Council gave first reading to the 2012 – 2016 financial plan and tax bylaw at last Monday’s (April 23) council meeting. The budget, which predicts revenue of $12.59 million, and spending of $14.04 million ($9.32 million on operations and $4.72 million on capital costs), will not be finalized until it receives third and final reading.
At yesterday’s (April 30) follow-up budget meeting, a few changes were made. Most of the capital spending slated for the Murray River boat launch upgrades was deferred until 2013. Just $50,000 towards the project remains in the 2012 budget, in order to begin design and engineering work this year, which will be a precursor to project grants that can be applied for in the future.
Discussion at the budget meeting also resulted in a tweak to tax rates – instead of a planned three per cent increase, businesses will now see no increase in their rates. Picking up the slack will be the industry assessment class, which will see a 5.08 per cent increase over last year’s rates. Tax rates for utilities also faced a slight adjustment, while the tax increase for all other property classes remains at three per cent.
In all, taxes will account for $8.74 million of the district’s revenue this year.
The deadline for anyone to submit written comments on the budget was April 4. Asked how the public can provide feedback at this point, Wren said the best way to do that is to attend a budget meeting, all of which are open to the public.
(Note: the Ridge Sentinel now has an events calendar that is updated daily to include all upcoming regular and special meetings of council.)
Water rates flowing upwards
Council finalized bylaws for a 25 per cent increase in water rates and a 10 per cent increase in sewer rates in 2012. The rate hikes will get each of those funds back on track, but are still not high enough to make them sustainable – meaning the rates will likely increase again in the next few years.
“When I reviewed the water fund, I found our reserves are quite low, about a third to a quarter of communities around us,” said chief financial officer Candie Laporte. “In most communities, water funds can fund their own infrastructure costs.”
Laporte explained the district’s utility and tax rates plunged in the early 2000s as the district’s population decreased, and it took until last year for the water rates to return to 2002 funding levels.
“If councils had done consistent small increases, there would not be a need for a large increase now,” she said.
Coun. Mike Caisley said he was surprised to learn that the district has taken no action until this year on a 2010 public works report that recommended raising the rates.
Artists request visitor centre use
Local artists are hoping Tumbler Ridge’s visitor information centre can become an off-season hub for artists displays and workshops.
Council heard local artist Darcy Jackson’s request to rent the building for $1 from September to May, a period of time when the visitor centre is normally closed. An artist cooperative (with about five members so far) would occupy the building from Tuesday through Saturday each week, “to showcase our art, sell it, and conduct workshops,” said Jackson.
Coun. Tim Snyder said he’d like to see the district cover the utilities costs for the building, as long as the artists act as ambassadors for tourism. Mayor Darwin Wren said he liked the concept’s tie-in to potential tourism, and said staff would look into it further.
Concerns linger on Finavera project
In the wake of Finavera Wind Energy’s 49-megawatt Tumbler Ridge wind project receiving provincial approval for an environmental assessment (EA) certificate, council noted there are still some concerns over the project’s visual impact. Coun. Rob Mackay noted the concerns may not have been presented strongly enough during the public feedback sessions for the EA application, but remain concerns nonetheless.
A long-term tax agreement on the project – which will be comprised mainly of the utility property assessment class – has not yet been considered. Wren noted the district is yet to reach a final agreement with Capital Power on a tax agreement for the Quality Wind Project near Tumbler Ridge. (A proposed agreement from late 2011 would have Capital Power pay a consistent annual tax bill on the project, rather than a declining amount each year as the wind power project’s assets decline in value.)
B.C. mayors’ caucus
Wren sought and received council’s permission to attend the first ever B.C. Mayors’ Caucus event in Penticton from May 16 to 18, an event he said could be very valuable for the district.
“You end up with hundreds of years of mayoral experience in the same room,” he noted.
Coun. Tim Snyder attended the April 9 community garden meeting, the April 12 Itchy Feet presentation and chaperoned at the teen dance on the same evening. He also attended the Titanic dinner and play on April 15. The seniors needs committee has likely found someone who can provide accounting services for seniors, he noted. He commented he was disappointed to see no District of Tumbler Ridge booth at a recent trade show in Dawson Creek, after the district had booths at recent trade shows in Chetwynd, Fort St. John, Vancouver and Calgary. He also asked whether a homeowner could put a storage unit on their property; chief administrative officer Barry Elliot said it’s allowable as long as it’s an accessory building that complies with the zoning bylaw. There would be no need to seek any kind of permission from council to get the storage unit in place.
Coun. Mike Caisley attended an interprovincial meeting for regional districts in the B.C. and Alberta Peace Regions. He noted there are many shared problems in terms of wildlife, work camps, and workers shortages.
Caisley attended another local business meeting last Tuesday (April 24) at town hall. It was the third meeting attended by local businesses looking at setting up a chamber of commerce, or some similar organization. A handful of local businesses have shown interest.
Coun. Aleen Torraville went to a library board meeting and to a Donna Mandeville farewell event. She also went to the Titanic play on April 15 and said it was a job well done.
“We’re lucky to have such talent in our community,” she noted.
Coun. Doug Beale noted the health needs committee won’t likely meet until the fall, and can’t do anything until the district’s budget is complete.
Coun. Sherri Hewitt said she spent three days in trade shows around the Peace Region over the past week in her new role as a recruiter for Teck. The family needs committee also will not meet again until the budget is complete, she said.
Coun. Rob Mackay noted members of the community forest board are excited to attend a community forest association event in Kaslo, B.C. this year. Last year’s event was fantastic, he said, and was useful because it recognized that all attendees were in the learning stages of how to run a community forest.
Mackay also noted the province is committed to having a bridge in place at Gwillim Lake provincial park by May 17.
Mayor Darwin Wren was in Victoria in the first week of April, where he met with Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Ida Chong and representatives from other ministries. Wren also met with the head of the Royal B.C. Museum to gain insight into B.C.’s paleontology stakeholders share resources.
At a local government leadership event, Wren said he learned more about how other local governments engage the community through technology. Fort St. John allows the public to pose questions to the city’s department heads through a Facebook page, he noted.
Wren said he spoke with Teck’s Ian Kilgour in Vancouver, and spoke of the need for more housing capacity in Tumbler Ridge. Wren said he’s expecting Teck to bring a proposal to council soon, and maintained there is no discussion at all of work camps being a means of housing Teck employees.
Regarding recent federal government cuts to the Community Access Program (CAP), which supplies public Internet access at the library in Tumbler Ridge, Wren said he is awaiting a response after calling Prince George – Peace River MP Bob Zimmer with his concerns.