City council would rather pay to control the cost of keeping parks tidy, but residents will also have to pay more to use them.
Mayor Shari Green and six members of council - minus councillors Dave Wilbur and Lyn Hall - met as committee of the whole Monday afternoon to tackle another batch of 20 recommendations stemming from the core services review final report.
During the meeting, the committee agreed to further investigation of raising the fees for ice time and adult use of sports field, as well as putting the kibosh on contracting out city grass cutting.
All decisions made by committee of the whole will be revisited at a future council meeting to be formally set in motion by council.
The group narrowly decided against contracting out grass cutting for parks and boulevards.
The mayor and councillors Cameron Stolz and Albert Koehler were in favour of finding out if there were money-saving opportunities in privatizing the service.
But Coun. Garth Frizzell said he couldn't see any clear benefit and Coun. Frank Everitt said they learned a lesson from last year when council made the decision to cut back on the maintenance work.
By farming the work out to a third party, Everitt argued that the only control the city would have would be to cancel a contract if they weren't happy with the work.
"Then we run around trying to find Mr. Good Guy to try and to come in and do the cutting again for a period of a year or two and then when he's tired of it he jacks up the prices and we're held hostage," Everitt said. "At least if we keep it in-house we know what the costs are going to be and we can manage that in the best way possible with our staff and with our own people."
Gary Campbell, president of the union representing the city's outside workers, CUPE local 399, called the decision "fantastic news."
"That was a huge, huge decision right there. And that's something we've been striving and fighting for all along," Campbell said. "Prince George is not a pretty place in the spring - it takes a lot of cleaning up. To keep that in house, you have more control. You have more control of the costs, more the control of the areas that are being done."
In the report from KPMG, the city has some of the lowest rates for recreation facility rental amongst the review's comparator communities including Chilliwack, North Vancouver, Kelowna and Kamloops.
"There is an opportunity to move closer to the norm," said Green, who as chair of the select committee on a core services review, put forward a motion to have staff return a bylaw matching the ice rental fees in Kamloops.
Currently - the rates are scheduled to rise again at the end of April - the discounted rate per hour for prime adult ice time (after 3 p.m.) in Prince George is $154.10. In Kamloops, it is $165.30 and $270 in Chilliwack.
The increase, which wouldn't take effect until 2014 if approved, received cautious support.
"There is going to be a breaking point," said Coun. Brian Skakun, who expressed concern over the potential of making residents less physically active.
"We are a winter sport city," Koehler noted. "And I'm favouring this motion, but I hope we will be very careful with the rate we're looking at."
The committee also opted to recommend council direct staff to return information about raising the adult fees for use of sports fields and parks to match those in Kamloops.
Council will also be tasked with deciding whether or not they want to send a strong message to property tax scofflaws. The committee recommended council direct staff to "begin collection of unpaid property taxes on mobile homes and seize if required."
"As soon as I thought we might be seizing mobile homes I thought 'oh my God, that's going to cost us more than it's worth,'" said Skakun, who was hoping to see any Community Charter implications raised in the report from staff. Coun. Murry Krause also echoed a desire to see a reflection of the potential legal costs.
According to Green, there is $280,000 outstanding in taxes from these properties, but there is some ambiguity over the property owner because trailers are generally on leased pad space.
"There would be some information coming back from [director of planning Ian Wells] about how that would work in terms of who is the property owner and how do you attach that unpaid bill to them. And in a community where you might see a trailer hitched up and hauled away, which I certainly can't imagine either, but it would certainly be a pretty strong deterrent for the remainder if there were any other unpaid balances in the park to be motivated to pay their bill like everybody else does," said Green.
At an upcoming council meeting, there will also be recommendations regarding putting the continued fluoridation of city water to a referendum in 2014, working to identify illegal secondary suites and finding ways to share resources with the regional district. Further discussion about the sale of city land holdings identified in the core review report will be conducted in a future closed meeting.