City of Prince Rupert opposes referendum and Moose Tot Park location for emergency service buildings
The City of Prince Rupert reiterated it simply does not have money to pay for new emergency services buildings at this time. Nor does it have the money to pay for a referendum to gauge the community's thoughts on a tax increase to fund the buildings.
"At this point in the time, the basic answer is we can't to afford to do it. But we do recognize that we need to do something," Gina Garon, city councillor, said.
This is the first time the City has revisited the subject since December, when council decided to table a report by Acting City Manager Dan Rodin outlining five recommendations found during a series of meetings held last year and suggested portion of land for the buildings.
At the council meeting held March 11, councillors decided to recognize the existing buildings have exceeded their useful lives, that it would be more cost effective to create two separate buildings, that a significant portion of any new tax revenue in coming years would have to be put into financing the buildings and that creating a joint-use building wouldn't be more cost effective.
Additionally, the City decided against adopting a resolution securing the locations of the new buildings on the intersection of 6th Avenue East and McBride Street, where Moose Tot Park and the Rotary Tennis Courts are. Staff's recommendation was prior to the creation of a RCMP station, Moose Tot Park would be moved to the Rotary Tennis Court location, and after the completion of the station the Fire Hall could be created on the current RCMP lot.
However no councillor spoke in favour of the recommended location, speaking against the loss of the tennis courts and saying the area is too congested for the buildings.
Councillor Joy Thorkelson was first to speak, making a motion recognizing the City needs a new fire hall and police station, but it cannot afford it at this time, and the City will commit to looking for a variety of moneys to earmark for these buildings and including new tax revenue, corporate donations and land sales.
Councillor Anna Ashley said she believes it's time to bring the subject to the community in a referendum.
"What I've heard from different conversations I've had with people in the community is there's some people who say we can't afford it, and others who say we can't afford not to. It's time to ask the people in the community whether or not at this point they would be willing to have that tax increase or if they want to wait," she said.
Although Ashley was the lone councillor in these thoughts.
"I'm not in favour of a referendum… Even if people say go ahead and increase taxes, I don't think it's an affordable thing to do while trying to maintain the City budget with everything else," Thorkelson said.
An area of concern came from a letter the City received from the RCMP stating the current accommodations are inadequate for their needs. Pursuant to a contract between the province, RCMP and municipality, the City has a responsibility to make the building up to standard. Prince Rupert’s RCMP detachment has some major safety concerns to deal with, and would require $3.5 million to renovate the cells to bring it up to safety standards.
Thorkelson said she isn’t convinced the RCMP couldn’t relocate some of the secretarial aspects of their operations out of the current building and renovate the detachment until the City is able to fund a new building.
But Ashley worries the RCMP may decide to send the third letter, meaning they could create a new building at an even greater cost to the city.
“Even if people vote no and at the end of the day they force us into it, we at least have given people the option. I feel it’s our job as council to explain to people ‘look here’s the situation, they can force us to do this’… Do you want to pay now or later?” she said.
Rodin assured council city staff looked into what would happen if the City received a third letter, and said no one could identify a community where RCMP had unilaterally went ahead and built their own building.
“They had come close, and there were a lot of threats but it always came down to negotiations… but it could happen, they certainly have that right,” he said.
Councillor Garon said she hasn’t spoken with anyone who wants their taxes increased, or wants the new buildings on that particular site. Like many councillors, she pointed to future tax revenue as a way of funding the buildings in years to come.
Passing these resolutions regarding the emergency buildings doesn’t bind the next council. The next council could choose to go through the whole process again, the passing of the resolutions simply outlines the current council’s decision on where to go next with the process.