Well, well, well if it isn't the consequences of my own actions: Tax hike edition
And Prince George hopes to be a model city for David Eby's vision of the province
Happy Monday — looks like the deep cold is behind us and we’re in that sweet spot of lower than 0 C but above -15 C for the week. Enjoy it!
The focus of today’s newsletter is the consequences of our actions when it comes to a coming financial bomb at city hall.
Vanishing lichen in the interior rainforest west of Prince George have UNBC researchers warning of ecosystem collapse without more protections.
A local filmmaker received a $36,000 award to create a comedy based on his dad’s involvement in the Northern Duck Races back in the day. For those who don’t remember.
A visiting University of Toronto prof argues the city’s actions against homeless camps and people last year amounts to human rights violations.
Another great winter light phenomenon: light pillars (read more about them here).A post shared by Chris Leboe (@chrisleboe)
You can now take a direct flight to Tucson.
CNC has set up an “invisible tree” to acknowledge people with disabilities that may go unseen by wider society.
A play originally performed in Vancouver but written in Prince George is running this week.
The city is reviewing its vaccine requirement policy for employees, as per emails provided to the Citizen. Current unvaccinated staff are unpaid leave until Jan. 15 at which point they will lose their positions unless something changes.
I got caught in traffic at the sold-out Cougars game Friday in which up-and-comer Connor Bedard scored 2 of 5 goals for the Regina Pats 5-1 victory in, as reported last week, was the Cats first sold-out game in years. And here’s the local family connection story.
“Here is the grift: Police are in a win-win situation. When crime goes down, it is because of the excellent police work, and they are spending our tax dollars well. And when crime goes up, the police need more money.”
A good idea:
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David Eby’s Prince George
It’s the second council meeting for Prince George tonight. There are two interesting presentations being given by UNBC students on the importance of urban trees/nature in the city which I’ll write about in a future newsletter but today there are two agenda items to focus on: The city’s response to David Eby’s plans on housing and public safety and the upcoming tax hikes facing the community. Let’s do Eby first:
Since becoming premier a couple weeks ago, David Eby has made a lot of promises that will have a direct impact on cities like Prince George, most notably with his public safety plan and desire to set housing targets for individual municipalities. For years the leaders of cities across B.C., including Prince George, have been calling on the province to step in on these files and at tonight’s council meeting more will be heard on how this actually might play out for the northern capital:
In a report destined to be presented to city council Monday, city manager Walter Babicz outlines the series of announcements made by the province, and the subsequent reaction from the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM).
Babicz outlines the gist of the Safer Communities Action Plan, which he describes as a “response to a rise in repeat violent offending linked to impacts of federal law changes and increased mental health and addiction challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the toxic drug crisis.”
When it comes to the City of Prince George, Babicz says the city’s 2022-24 Strategic Plan includes goals that align with the province on meeting the housing need of the city, and initiatives that enhance community safety.
“There may be an opportunity for the city to work with the province (perhaps as a pilot community) to implement both the housing legislation and Safer Communities Action Plan in Prince George,” Babicz says.
Also on the agenda is a report from the Interior Universities Research Coalition, which consists of UNBC, Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops and UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. Apparently, the three are teaming up to“focus on preventing homelessness through community-embedded research with a positive social impact geared toward medium sized cities.” Right now they are seeking support from the city to apply for federal funding for their research projects.
Well, well, well if it isn't the consequences of my own actions: Tax hike edition
We’ve become the bike meme
Along with a council meeting, the city’s first finance committee meeting is happening today and it comes with a doozy: In order to maintain existing service levels (ie. not making cuts to road clearing, library hours, park maintenance etc) the city will need to implement a 7.22 per cent, or roughly $166 per home, tax increase.
And while this might seem like sticker shock it was absolutely, 100 per cent predictable and predicted. Back in February 2021 city council was faced with the need to either cut services or raise taxes in order to keep up with rising costs and instead opted to do neither. As I reported at the time:
Councillors in Prince George, B.C., say they know they will eventually have to either raise municipal taxes or cut more services in order to balance the city's budget.
But for now they've opted to do neither, instead dipping into one-time COVID-19 relief funds to cover a budget increase of more than $2 milllion.
The decision to use temporary COVID relief money to paper over deeper financial issues was championed by Coun. Kyle Sampson ,who argued a zero per cent tax increase, one that didn’t even account for inflation, was necessary because of the hardships of COVID. "There's a lot of people in our community who need a break," he said.
Those who were against this decision were Coun. Cori Ramsay, Garth Frizzell and Susan Scott. Ramsay made the strongest argument against the move, warning that by avoiding smaller 2-3 per cent increases now, council was simply saddling future taxpayers with a much larger leap in future years:
Ramsay warned not raising taxes now could mean a four to six per cent increase in 2022 or 2023, when the COVID-19 grant runs out, unless further reductions were made. She also noted that as restrictions lifted, there would be pressure to reopen closed facilities, further straining city funds.
"I fear if we don't at least cover inflation, we're going to be playing catch-up for years to come," she said.
And now, here we are, in a worse situation than cities who implemented modest annual tax hikes. Indeed, a statement from the city itself notes (bold is mine):
After a zero per cent tax increase in 2021 implemented as a COVID-19 economic relief measure, the City increased its 2022 levy by three per cent. The total 2021-2022 levies from nine commonly-compared B.C. municipalities averaged out to 8.2 per cent over two years. In contrast, Prince George’s average levy remained at three per cent over the same two-year period. According to the report, this places the city at risk of compromising its long-term ability to sustain the service levels required for a community of Prince George’s size.
Coincidentally or not, Ramsay is the only returning councillor to be on the finance committee this year, joined by newcombers Ron Polillo, Tim Bennett and Trudy Klassen. I can’t imagine she takes any great joy in being proven right and tasked with the job of fixing a problem she saw coming.
And it’s not as if the councillors who voted to defer the problems until now didn’t see them coming, either: Sampson admitted he was “kicking the can further down the road” and said "we need to sharpen our pencils” — as in, find places to start making cuts. We’ll see what he, and others, propose go on the chopping block in the weeks ahead.
Oh and you may recall me writing about Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Corrigal acting as the unofficial voice of the opposition on council decisions. Here’s his take:
There are generally two ways cities can manage their finances: Raise taxes or cut services. For the past two years, Prince George has gotten enough COVID relief money that it’s managed to avoid either of these to any great degree.
Here come the consequences.
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