A well-attended public budget meeting presented at Coast Mountain College on Nov. 9 brought moans, groans and creative suggestions to the city’s proposed 2024 budget.
The budget plan, which the city said was raised early from its usual spring date to “get ahead of the game” on supplies and operations, was initially proposed on Nov. 6. The public can also express their opinions at the Nov. 16 council meeting.
While many attendees were frustrated at the increased budget plans, many comments acknowledged the difficult financial position the city is in with its failing infrastructure and lack of meaningful development.
City staff defended a potential 7.7 per cent tax increase, citing inflation issues, while also pointing to a previous stagnation of property taxes.
The city should be more frugal during economically tough times such as these, according to long-time resident Terry Sawka.
“A long time ago, my dad told me that it’s easy to spend somebody else’s money and that’s what’s going on here,” Sawka said. “And the other thing he told me was just because you've got a debit card doesn’t mean you’ve got money in the bank, and that’s what’s going on here. Instead of trying to hold the line, and I understand that there is some hard costs… But this Council keeps dragging not only last year, but this year on new projects, and these projects cost money.”
Chief Financial Officer Corinne Bomben said the city is nearing its borrowing ceiling. According to the proposed budget, the city is seeking $35.6 million in loans for capital projects such as the new RCMP detachment and new fire department equipment.
The former McCarthy GM building on Chamberlain Avenue, which was leased with an option to buy by the city over two years ago and has not been used by city staff as intended, was another point of frustration for Sawka. City Operations Manager Richard Pucci said the building, which is supposed to provide office space for city employees, is not currently ready for occupancy.
City employees also tried to provide optimism with an update on talks with the port and the province to renegotiate the provincial tax cap on ports. The city is being “short-changed” approximately $2 million in revenue, according to City Manager Rob Buchan.
Buchan said that while times are tight at the moment, the ambitious 2030 Vision plan could still come to fruition, though he emphasized the importance of ditching the port tax cap.
One attendee lamented that most residents are only looking for “basic necessities,” not grandiose future plans.
Concerns about safe drinking water and general infrastructure were also brought up by residents at the meeting.
Another resident recognized that there is little funding for the city to work with, though warned that a lack of investment in the community would push away young families.
Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View