Councillor Pratt, Greater Nanaimo Harbour Association, DNBIA, 2.3% tax increase

There was some lively discussion at last week’s Nanaimo Council meeting regarding the formation of a new harbour society, the Greater Nanaimo Harbour Association. Council also heard from a group concerned about the dissolution of DNBIA assets and discussed ducking the environment.

The big news this week was the upcoming property tax increase and Councillor Pratt’s resignation.

Greater Nanaimo Harbour Association

A speaker representing a new harbour group called the Greater Nanaimo Harbour Association is hoping to take over control from the Nanaimo Port Authority (NPA). The speaker asked Council for its support.

Note: In 1981, the federal government scrapped the National Harbours Board and created the Canada Ports Corporation. Each former NHB (National Harbours Board) port became a Local Port Corporation (LPC).

Council discussion:

Yoachim: …do you have support from SFN [Snuneymuxw First Nation]?

Speaker:…we are talking to them…

Brennan: …do we have a report from staff on this?

Thorpe: …I agree with Brennan…until we hear from staff…there are other projects we have with NPA…

Speaker: …this is much larger than a rate issue…decay of the harbour…poor relationship…

Thorpe:…we have an important relationship with NPA…

Speaker: …a number of projects are not happening…money is not being invested in the port…community is losing…crisis…

Bestwick: (reads motion)…Council supports the Greater Nanaimo Waterfront Association’s [sic] efforts to work with SFN, City of Nanaimo, RDN and marine industry and the community at large to form a not for profit society tasked with becoming the official stewards of the waterfront…

Yoachim: …I support this motion…we run the risk of privatization of our port…

Hong: …this is going to be a long process…public input…open houses…if the federal government is getting out of running the ports then we should jump on it…

CFO: …the staff report will be disappointing…We would need resources to advise you…we don’t know what is possible and what is not…The City has not been asked to take a position on this; the City is ignorant….we don’t have the staff to advise you on this file…

Thorpe: …I can’t support the motion…rushed…I need more information…

Fuller: …I don’t see this as rushing…it will take a long time…partners will have to give input…City will have to give input…we have some great staff and they can figure it out…I support the motion…

Support vs Explore

Brennan: …I am not clear on the motion…’council supports efforts to form a non-profit society’…it doesn’t give an opportunity for advice from staff…I have an obligation to the people of Nanaimo…I don’t disagree…significant decision…I can’t support it…this is a big task…we don’t have the staff to look at this…

Bestwick: …the motion as it reads is to support the GWNA to work with the community…it’s a process that needs to start…at the end of the day they are asking us to see if this can work…not a coup…if we don’t get going…it will be lost …I will support the motion…

Brennan: …if the wording were…to ‘explore’ the efforts…once you use ‘support’ you commit…We have time to consult with staff…my role is to request information from staff…I would make a motion to amend it to read…council ‘explores’ efforts…I support something less directive…

Yoachim: …we are a harbour city…it works in Victoria…lots of experts here…

CFO: …it’s a complex issue…need funding for this…our role is to provide you with information…but we are not in a position to advise you…

McKay: …this is to overthrow the NPA…we haven’t met all the groups yet…What is the role of Transport Canada? How are they involved?…we need a discussion with other groups…most groups occupy provincial leases…Where is the provincial government on this? …There are only a handful of federal leases in Nanaimo…we need to find out where we are…

Councillor Brennan’s amendment to the motion was defeated. Voting in favour of the original motion were Councillors Kipp,  Fuller, Bestwick, Yoachim and Hong. Opposed were Councillors Thorpe, Brennan and Mayor McKay.

Announcement

Below is some breaking news:

To refresh our readers’ memory, the City of Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Port Authority planned to sell off the harbour for $9 million in 2013.

DNBIA Questions

At the April 3rd regular Council meeting a speaker raised several questions about the DNBIA.

  • was the DNBIA dissolved correctly?
  • DNBIA collected $3 million over the last 16 years – has it been accounted for?
  • what happened to the DNBIA assets?

The speaker had concerns that the same DNBIA group would set up a new group and didn’t want the new group getting any more money.

Council discussion:

Kipp: …[the amount of] money invested by the City into the DNBIA is disturbing…What happened to that money?…What has happened to their equipment?…

CFO: …we changed the way the money was going to be directed…funding is still going to be there to fund events downtown…

Bestwick: …no closure of assets…?

CFO: …no simple accounting received yet…

Bestwick: Who takes the next step?

CFO: …we’re not at the audit stage yet…

Fuller: …concerns the way this was handled…The City contributed a lot of money to the DNBIA…this should be looked into deeply…

Brennan: …be careful how Council talks about groups…

Fuller: Is anyone offended by what I said?

At this point Mayor Mckay closed the discussion.

Ducking the Environment

At the same April 3rd meeting there were a number of approvals of watercourse setbacks that went beyond standard zoning recommendations.

A request was made to council for a watercourse setback in order to allow for renovations at 3100 Hammond Bay Road.

A portion of the house and the entire garage were located inside a 15 metre watercourse setback boundary and unfortunately for the new owners this was non-conforming. A stop work order was issued in September 2016 because work was done within the watercourse setback zone.

In order for the stop work order to be removed and the renovations to be completed they needed approval from Council.

Council discussion:

Hong: …what’s the problem?…

Brennan:… this property was subject to a 1 year long investigation by our Environment Committee (now disbanded) and environmental organizations in town…We should first  work on ways to avoid a setback variance…protect riparian areas…we value our waterfront…very important issue…that is why having an Environmental Committee to advise us was so very important …The Environmental Committee said that this area [at Hammond Bay Road] was very important and I am honouring that…so I can’t support it…

Councillor Brennan’s amendment to the motion to not include a lower deck was defeated. Councillors Kipp, Yoachim, Hong, Bestwick, Thorpe, and Fuller approved the original motion and Brennan opposed. Mayor McKay didn’t vote.

What has replaced the Environmental Committee? Port Alberni has a Food Security and Climate Disruption Committee to deal with issues around rising sea levels, plants for bees, use of pesticides, etc.

2.3% Property Tax Increase

A 2.3% property tax increase for 2017 will be presented to Council at the next Finance Committee meeting on April 12th. The property tax increase does not include the proposed increase to user fees for garbage, sewer and water.

There was a Finance Committee meeting on April 5th and a 20 year plan for collecting money was presented. The goal is to continue with a 1% property tax increase every year for infrastructure. The money would go into a General Asset Management Fund until 2022.

There were presentations from three staff members. They went into details around Development Cost Charges (DCCs) and user fees.

Development Cost Charges

The City is working on a new rate structure for Development Cost Charges. Development Cost Charges are collected to offset the infrastructure needs of new developments. These would include sewer, water, roads, drainage, and parkland.

The City recommends a reduced DCC rate for new small lot developments. Currently, all single family lots regardless of size are charged the same DCC rates.

DCCs are waived in the downtown core. It’s unclear if this will change. A new bylaw should be ready in June. The goal is to raise $117 million in DCC’s over the next 20 years.

New Capital Projects

The City plans to spend approximately $1.1 billion over the next 20 years on general infrastructure, sewer and water projects. So far they have allocated $794 million which means the City needs to raise another $258 million. Where will the City find that money?

Next year the City plans to spend approximately $10 million on sewer upgrades. There are 10 water projects planned for a cost of $135 million.

User fees

User fees will go up to $146 per household for garbage. This is to pay for 7 new automated garbage trucks and bins at $7.4 million. All of Nanaimo will have this service by July 2018.

Over the next three months the City will pay a U.S. based consultant $75,000 to study user fees. Water, sewer, and garbage won’t be included in the study. Possibly, the consultant may study water and sewer rates next year.

Why are these important financial presentations not at open Council meetings? Taxes and user fees impact everyone.

Councillor Pratt resigns

Mayor McKay issued a statement on Friday that Councillor Pratt resigned.

Councillor Pratt appeared to be energetic, enthusiastic and prepared at Council meetings until recently when she looked to be frustrated and dejected.

In the fall of 2016 Pratt asked some very hard questions regarding the City jail guard layoffs.

In November 2016, Councillor Kipp verbally disparaged Councillor Pratt at a public Council meeting. Later, Pratt was quoted in the Nanaimo News Now as saying “outbursts of anger and verbal attacks in public settings are becoming acceptable behaviour for some on Nanaimo council”.

Was Councillor Pratt intentionally bullied out of her job so that her seat on Council could be filled by someone who is socially conservative?

Now there is just one woman left on Nanaimo Council, Councillor Brennan who was also bullied at Council meetings and told to ‘shut up’. She is one of the only Council members who has regularly spoken out about environmental and social justice issues.

Civic politics is often difficult, dangerous and dirty. When the boat gets rocked people don’t like it.

In addition to the City’s lawsuit against the Mayor, the City launched an RCMP investigation into a Council member’s actions and in December a criminal defense lawyer, Mark Jetté, was hired to be a special prosecutor. According to the Times Colonist, Jetté said that no charges have been laid so far and it is not possible to estimate the time this matter will take.

Does this smell like another Health Firings scandal? Will the City end up having to pay out damages? Will the costs of these lawsuits and legal actions be noted separately in the City’s financial statements?

Incidentally, Jetté defended Su Bin, a Chinese businessman and Canadian resident charged by the U.S. government for hacking into computers belonging to Boeing and other companies.

April 10th COW meeting topics

Coming up on Monday night there will be a COW (Committee of the Whole) meeting at City Hall. Some topics on the agenda include:

    • cancelling the $80 million loan application for the Events Centre
    • spending $450,000 for a 5 year IT software contract for Parks & Rec
    • proposal for new hotel at old Jean Burns building site
    • introduction to the Douglas-fir and Associated Ecosystems Partnership