Tuesday, May 30, 2017

City's tax notices make their journey to your mailbox this week

Mayor Lee Brain has provided a short review
of the year for residents as part of this years
Property Taxation Notice
The second stage of the City of Prince Rupert's tax collection process is now underway as the City's property tax notices begin to arrive in mailboxes across Prince Rupert, providing residents with the final word on whether they will be paying less, paying more or holding to last years totals when it comes to funds required by City Hall.

The Property tax call marks the final request for money for the year, the first having come back in January when the City issued their tax bills for the range of services such as water and garbage collection that they provide to the City.

Along with this years Notice is what has become an annual State of the City letter from the Mayor, with Mayor Lee Brain providing a few thoughts on the progress of this Council as they look to deliver city services and offer up ambitious plans for the future.

The letter is large on infrastructure this year with the mayor noting the range of paving projects currently underway in the community this year.

As well, the city's waterline projects make for key elements for the city this year, with the city making note of their success when it comes to their applications for a number of federal and provincial grants, to go along with their own financial contributions towards those large scale projects.

As well as the ongoing work to bring Watson Island back to life as a revenue generating industrial site gets a prominent mention in this years Tax Notice newsletter, though there is no mention of any of the legal issues that have surrounded the site from the past, nor the cost to the city of maintenance of the site while they await the new development to bring its financial returns.

Among some of the Mayor's observations from this years tidings of civic governance are:

Since 2015, we've rolled up our sleeves and got to work to bring now over $30 million dollars in grants as well as capital contributions from Prince Rupert Legacy Inc. towards new infrastructure in Prince Rupert.

Just this year we issued a $6.9 million dollar contract for Phase 1 of our Water Works project, and it was also announced that we received a $7.1 million dollar grant for Phase 2 of the Water Works project to replace our 100 year old dam. Although this project is not visible to the community, this is Council's number one infrastructure priority because of the urgency in securing our community's 100 year old water supply.

Although Prince Rupert has suffered a depressed economy, we are now gathering steam to revitalize the community by undertaking the the following initiatives: a design for our downtown and waterfront; supporting and advocating for new affordable housing initiatives, re-engaging public participation in the Redesign Rupert initiative and repaving announcements for the Highway and downtown core.

This summer we also expect to see the decommissioning of the old pulp mill site. We've removed all chemicals and are now looking towards the redevelopment of Watson Island. The Letter of Intent signed in April of 2017 with Pembina, for a Liquid Propane Gas export facility (LPG) on the site is a step towards bringing Watson Island back onto the tax roll. To generate additional revenues, we will be pursuing future development opportunities for the remainder of the site as well.

The Mayor also points to  areas that the City consider to be financially challenging, whether it is the current arrangement with Port Edward on Ridley Island Tax Sharing, or the larger issues with the Province and it's port property tax system.

For the city, those two external factors appear to be the major cause of much of their financial concern, with the Mayor suggesting that the issues are the main reason that the financial burden falls to the taxpayer, both residential and commercial.

However, it should be noted that those financial limitations have not had too large an impact when it comes to the increase in city staffing levels both operational and as part of the city's growing bureaucracy.

Council has also attached some high importance towards the ambitious planning for downtown, waterfront and Seal Cove revitalization and an expanding list of interests that council members have advocated for over the last three years.

While they may be concerned about how those external factors are impacting on their ability to continue to develop their plans, they are moving forward with many of them. Whether by way of continuing to draw down on the Legacy Corp funding that remains, through increases in user fees at recreation facilities, or by way of increases to taxes and utilities fees for commercial and residential users.

The letter to residents of Prince Rupert also provides for some unusually blunt language about the city's neighbours, comments that may not be very well received by the Port Edward side of the negotiating table.

Unfortunately, our capacity to reduce taxes or increase spending on infrastructure, services, or new amenities is currently hindered by two major factors: The Provincial Port Property Tax Act, which caps the tax rate at which we can collect revenues from major port industries, and the Ridley Island Tax Sharing Agreement, which transfers 17% of Ridley Island Tax revenues to the District of Port Edward. Each year, we lose a combined $1.2 million dollars (and growing) due to these two issues, with the burden shifting to the commercial and residential taxpayers.

Because of the unintended consequences of the Tax Cap, we are working with the Provincial government and the Port of Prince Rupert to find a mutually agreeable solution as soon as possible.

In addition, we are now seeking to renegotiate the Ridley Island Tax Sharing Agreement with the District of Port Edward, and to negotiate a fairer agreement with respect to cost-sharing for shared services because we believe its unfair to ask taxpayers to continue paying 22% of another community's budget each year.

The Mayor's address to the people closes with anticipation of another great year ahead as Council looks to continue to advance the interests of Prince Rupert. Along with that promise of performance, is the observation, that despite the challenges ahead, the Council and the City will continue to be innovative, efficient and fighting for the community to ensure that they can provide its residents with the best possible quality of life that we all deserve.

Along with Mayor Brain's themes, the city has also included some information for residents to review about how the taxation dollars are allocated, first by way of a breakdown of where the tax dollars go that are assessed both by the City and by other regional organizations.

City of Prince Rupert 64.3%
School Tax 26.2%
North Coast Regional District 2.0%
Northwest Regional Hospital District 7.1%
B.C. Assessment and Municipal Finance Authority 0.4%

A graph is also included to show how the City uses it's 64.3% share of our tax revenues and how much of it is allocated towards some of our key municipal services such as RCMP, Fire, Recreation, Airport Ferry and various elements of Civic Government to name a few of the seventeen areas listed.

There is also a sneak preview of the City's Annual Report that is scheduled to be released in mid-June.  That features an infographic review of some of the City highlights, from Watson Island, to the Grand Opening of the Cow Bay Marina and the ongoing consultation process for the redesign of the city's waterfront and downtown areas.

The preview also provides a look at the current paving projects underway, with the City making note of the 4.5 million dollars in work taking place in the community this summer.

In their update for the community the City makes mention of both the City's project on Third Avenue and the larger project of Highway 16.  Though the city's notes neglect to mention that the Province of BC is providing the funding for the extensive work taking place from the Lester Centre, to Fairview Terminal.

The City also appears to be holding firm with their own population count, noting that they believe that there are currently 13,766 people in the community.

A figure somewhat at odds and significantly less than what Stats Canada delivered earlier this year, when the Federal agency count settled on a population count of 11,733, a number which indicated a continued decline from the figures of 2011. As we noted back in January, Stats Canada's findings also noted that the larger regional population was pegged at 12,200 which is also a decline from four years ago.

For its part, the infographic doesn't provide an explanation as to how the City has estimated their population count, nor does it offer up how there could be a 2,000 person difference between the Federal and municipal findings.

When the full Annual Report is released next month, you will be able to view an online version of it here.

The Tax notice mailing also provides information for residents as to how they can pay their taxes, claim the home ownership grant or seek a BC Government Property Tax Deferment.

The deadline for payment of taxes is July 4th, after which a 10 percent penalty can be assessed on delinquent accounts.

More notes on this years Taxation and Budget process can be found on our archive page here.

While notes related to Discussion topics at Prince Rupert City Council can be reviewed from our Council Discussion archive.

Cross posted from the North Coast Review

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