Alberni city budget 2014: Non-profits present budgets

Non-profit organizations that annually receive funding from the City of Port Alberni made their respective pitches to city council on Monday to kick off the 2014 budget season.

Lumber sales up, budget request down for IHS

The Industrial Heritage Society is asking for $10,000 less this year from the city.

IHS director Hugh Grist requested $239,000 from the city, which is down from the $249,000 the city doled out to the society last year.

At $488,000 the operating budget for McLean Mill has increased by more than $44,000 compared to last year. But a boost in lumber sales last year to the tune of more than $60,000 made this year’s reduced request possible, Grist said.

The mill’s operations are underwritten with a combination of contributions from the city, lumber sales, grants, concession sales and admissions. The city’s contribution represents more than half of the total operating budget.

Wages, train fuel, marketing and maintenance are the largest cost items on the operations side.

At 11,000 people attendance is down from 13,000 in 2012, Grist said.

However that doesn’t tell the whole story, mill manager Neil Malbon said. The Festival of Lights, which was a huge draw in 2012, wasn’t held this year. But revenue from admissions was up because of passengers who bought cruise ship packages at $50 each.

Coun. Hira Chopra suggested that the IHS consider expanding their operations at the Harbour Road train station by considering a restaurant, bar and retail shops. “Sooner or later people aren’t going to want to fund that part,” Chopra said. “You need to look out of the box. Just think about it,” he said.

The idea has merit but the spectre of competition may spook surrounding businesses, Grist said. “It wouldn’t be popular.”

Coun. Jack McLeman asked Grist what the city could do to help with advertising, asking in particular about marketing on BC Ferries.

Marketing on the ferries has been tried but was found to be too expensive to continue, Grist said.

Special events planned for 2014 include special room-dinner-train packages with local hotels; train and wine tours with Chase & Warren Estate Winery; and bus and cruise ship charters.

Chamber requests status quo for 2014

The budget presented by the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce can best be described at steady at the helm.

“We’re requesting no funding increase, and are asking city council to continue funding at the present level,” chamber president Teresa Bird said.

The chamber presented a total budget of $271,000 to the city—$120,000 in chamber operations and $151,000 for visitor centre operations.

The chamber collects $151,000, ($84,000 of which comes from the city) for the centre.

The BC Ministry of Tourism, chamber and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District underwrite the rest.

The chamber wants to spearhead some initiatives that will provide extra value at no extra cost, Bird said.

The wish-list of projects include a new outside deck at the visitor centre that faces Mt. Arrowsmith; a mobile visitor centre that would promote community events; re-installing the focal point sign that was taken down when the centre was built; and expanding the way-finding signs to Victoria Quay and Sproat Lake.

The chamber also wants to continue the popular ambassador program, continue the Sunset Street Market at Victoria Quay and leverage a new partnership with Tourism Tofino.

Audience member Sandy McRuer asked if the partnership with Tofino was reciprocal. Chamber manager Bill Collette replied that it is.

Chamber staff want to “talk to people where they are going through and provide them with choices and options,” Collette said. “I see Port Alberni as part of the West Coast,” instead of separate from it, he added.

Audience member Denis Sauve asked about marketing on BC Ferries.

Collette replied that the chamber doesn’t have a marketing presence on ferries, but that Alberni Valley Tourism does.

More responsibility means SPCA needs more help from city coffers

The Port Alberni SPCA needs a budget boost from the city if it’s expected to handle the downloading of new responsibilities from the city, manager Irene Towell said.

The SPCA is asking that its $122,185 budget be increased by $6,100 this year. The increase would allow the facility to absorb new responsibilities the city wants them to take on, including dangerous dog control, enforcing bylaws for too many cats in a house and enforcing a pending chicken bylaw.

The city’s bylaw officer used to perform the duties but his time is being re-allocated to enforcing new building bylaws, city manager Ken Watson said.

The SPCA is also asking the city for a one-time $5,000 grant to build a chicken coop if the bylaw successfully passes, as well as to commit extra staff time to administer it. If the bylaw doesn’t pass then the grant won’t be needed, Towell said.

The coop would be used to house stray chickens that have been seized once the bylaw is enforced. The birds would be re-homed similar to dogs and cats.

The city has requested that the facility provide an estimate on what it would cost to re-open on Mondays but the figure hadn’t been calculated yet.

The SPCA has a contract with the city to perform animal control but not with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.

Coun. Dan Washington asked about requiring cats to be licensed like dogs.

Towell replied that the province tried the idea once but not in Port Alberni. As well, cats aren’t required to be licensed in any other community as far as Towell knew.

The SPCA had its hands full in 2013. The agency cared for more than 1,000 animals. There were 284 cats and dogs that were spayed and neutered. And 55 dogs received vaccinations and shots for flea control.

To cope with overflow issues, the SPCA shipped 84 dogs and 274 cats to other facilities on the Island, Towell said.

Of the more than 1,000 animals dealt with last year 559 were dogs and 455 were cats. Eighty per cent of the dogs were re-claimed by owners; only nine per cent of cats were re-claimed.

Transit talks fare increase, new bus

A BC Transit fare increase could be in order for Port Alberni.

Transit officials suggested a fare structure review during their presentation to city council. The review would examine the effectiveness of the current fare structure and provide a subsequent fare strategy.

According to transit’s website, bus fares range from $1.75 for adults to $1.50 for seniors and students. Children aged five and younger aren’t charged a fare.

A book of 20 tickets costs $33 for adults and $28 for seniors and students.

Monthly passes cost $48 for adults, $30 for students and $20 for seniors. A semester pass for students costs $100.

A new structure may include a range of options including a cash fare of $2, discounted passes and more promotional marketing, Wadsworth said.

For 2014-2015, transit is projecting total revenue of $336,000. The city’s share is expected to be $735,000 and the province’s share $816,000.

Ridership and revenue were down from July to November in 2013; ridership by 3.5 per cent and revenue by 11 per cent.

The numbers are rebounding though due to people getting used to new routes. As well, cash fares are down but sales of tickets and passes are up.

Coun. Hira Chopra asked where the $28,000 loss in revenue would be recovered. Transit officials replied that ridership and therefore fares are rebounding, and that some line items are coming in under budget.

Other initiatives BC Transit will be involved with in 2014 include a regional transit study in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, undertaking a passenger count during a specified time and researching a new bus for Alberni.

Transit is looking at the Vicinity model city bus for Alberni. At 27 feet, the new rig is three feet smaller than the 30-foot Dart, and it holds 10 fewer people. But the new bus has a 10-year lifespan, five years longer than existing buses, and it’s more fuel efficient, which would result in cost savings.

The Vicinity is already in use in Quesnel and the Kootenays, and Port Alberni could be looked at for a test run.

Total costs are projected to be $1,920,000, which is up from $1,862,000 in 2013.

A service review undertaken in 2012 spawned several changes to local transit service including installing a central bus exchange, reducing the number of routes from six to three and reducing bus round-trips from one hour to 45 minutes.


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