Killing the COW; Nanaimo Tax increases; homeless youth

Nanaimo Council voted to hold future Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings at the SARC building rather than the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.  Why? To save some money and to avoid the public eye as much as they can. Who knows when they plan to shut down the videos. This is a step backwards for public engagement.

COW meetings will now take place in the Service and Resource Centre boardroom (SARC) located at 411 Dunsmuir Street.

Voting in favour of moving future COW meetings to the SARC boardroom were: Councillors Hong, Yoachim, Bestwick, Thorpe, Fuller, and Kipp.

Opposed to the move were: Councillors Brennan, Pratt and Mayor McKay.

Concerns from Council watcher

A regular council watcher gave a brief presentation regarding concerns with moving the COW meetings to SARC. Apart from the fact that VICC can accommodate 200 people compared to 25 in the SARC boardroom, other concerns with the new location include:

  • COW meetings will no longer be live streamed on Shaw TV
  • lack of adequate camera/recording equipment in SARC
  • difficult to hear councillors in the new room
  • poor sight lines in the new location

The delegation also questioned how much money is actually being saved by this move.

Council discussion

Fuller: …what about the other three cameras [for the boardroom]? …Are we doing that?

Staff: …we have not identified when they will be installed…

Fuller: …there is one camera now…we just have the backs of councillors shown…

Thorpe: …The structure of the COW meetings have changed from being a committee to actually dealing with Council issues. In fact they deal with all Council issues at COW meetings with the exception of bylaws …I’m not convinced that the savings is much…

Kipp: …half the time I don’t want to be recorded when my emotions get the best of me…the official record is the written record…the cost here [VICC] is expensive…we need to be informal…

Hong: …when we get presentations then we should just defer them to Council meetings so  they can get on TV…

Brennan: …I prefer this setting …it allows more people more to get involved…

Pratt: …We don’t use our COW meetings properly…will we get some changes to procedures?…not sure that we will…the public is going to become very frustrated…

Bestwick: ….I have been advocating that COW meetings be held in tighter locations for a long time…I prefer not to wear a suit and tie…the audio problems can be addressed …cost savings over the years could be $250,000…Parks and Rec is looking for a new venue to hold meetings…

Fuller:..We are subsidizing this place anyway. How much is actual savings? Should we remove the food portion and save $5,000? That would be a savings…to cut the food.

Staff: …this space could be used by someone else for rental…With regards to food…we can look at how we can streamline that…

Pratt: What are we spending to upgrade the SARC boardroom?

Staff: …$80,000 for the upgrades so far….$7,000 for another camera…for another angle

Bestwick: …public hearings could be heard at SARC…we are paying twice by meeting here [VICC]…

Yoachim: I agree with Councillor Bestwick. I support this move…looking forward to ’roundtable’ conversations….

Pratt: Are we paying twice by meeting here?

Staff: We rent this building…get invoiced by the operator…you could say you’re paying twice…but we own the building…

Kipp: At the RDN we never record anything and we never have for years or decades…we pay a huge percentage of their costs…I would like to see some analysis of both venues…

Thopre: … we might not need to record COW meetings in the future…I would love to see more informal meetings…

McKay: …I hate the boardroom at SARC —it’s very cool, very grey on grey…trying to hear councillors is impossible when the air conditioning kicks in…Public participation is growing…don’t support the move…

Kipp: …what about using the empty 3rd floor [in SARC] it cost us $14million to build and is horribly designed…

Fuller: …committee meetings could be recorded…

No homeless shelter for Nanaimo youth

Last week a brave young homeless youth spoke to council about concerns that over ten youths between the ages of 12 and 16 were living in the bush. They were being turned away from homeless shelters because of their age. The homeless shelters in Nanaimo are not permitted to take in youth because of regulations.

Council decided to strike up a committee to look at the youth homeless issue.

At the December 12th council meeting, Council agreed to commit a maximum of $75, 000 for additional staff and beds. Staff said it would take approximately two weeks to get something up and running for the homeless youth in Nanaimo.

Let’s hope no young people die on our streets this holiday season. It is extremely cold outside at night and there needs to be action taken immediately. These young people cannot wait two weeks for staff to get their act together.  Listening to this homeless crisis were three senior staff  who are collectively earning over half a million dollars. Let’s see some action for our money.

Question Period

Some good questions were raised:

Will Nanaimo take over ownership of the Island Highway that runs through town?

Why is the City hiring a new communication specialist? What is the purpose of this and the costs? Who is going to be hired, Mark McDonald? Is his role expanding?

Will police and fire services, which were excluded from the Core Services Review, be looked at next year?

The $200,000 for an affordable housing strategy – is that going to be another consultant job?

Staff was short on answers as the CAO was away. Maybe next meeting the person will try asking questions again.

More than 2% tax increase

Get ready to dig deeper into your wallet. Overall taxes are to increase more than 2% in 2017, when you include the increased user rates:

  •  5 % increase for sewer
  • 7.5% increase for water
  • 2% increase for garbage collection

These increased rates are effective January 2017. The average homeowner will have user rates of over $700.

Quote of the night

The Good Ol’ Days: In 1951 Nanaimo’s population was 8,000 and they held council meetings in a backroom of City Hall and there was no video recording. [Kinda like present day RDN meetings].

Future COW meetings at SARC