A divided Prince George city council passed recommendations Monday to establish a one-time emergency fund to help downtown businesses recover following the Aug. 22 explosion.
The idea was first brought forward at the Aug. 28 council meeting by Coun. Kyle Sampson following discussion of correspondence from the Downtown Business Improvement Association (DBIA) also known as Downtown PG.
The Downtown Vibrancy and Vitality Initiative would be a service administered and managed for the city by Downtown Prince George.
The service would be established through a partnering agreement involving the allocation of $20,000, from the city’s Council Contingency Fund, towards a micro grant program to support any business repairing damage caused by the explosion at 4th Avenue and Dominion St.
This would be known as the Downtown Vibrancy and Vitality Initiative funding program and it would be in place until December 31, 2023.
The program would be administered by Downtown Prince George based on a first-come, first-served basis, up to $1,000 per business, and the business would be required to provide receipts.
No part of the funds would be allocated towards administrative costs, and any of the funds remaining unspent at the end of the program term would be returned to the city.
“When this came to council it happened pretty fast,” said Coun. Brian Skakun, voicing concerns that this initiative is outside the norm of council contingency uses.
“A couple of years ago a beauty spot on Third Avenue was burnt to the ground – we have done nothing for the other businesses that have suffered through all of the garbage going on,” said Skakun.
“My concern is we are giving away money. This is a tragic, tragic, event where a city worker was seriously injured and I don’t want to lose sight of that. I’m not going to support this because I think if we really truly want to look at compensating businesses that have suffered downtown that is a separate issue.”
Skakun said he appreciates the intent but was concerned with other groups coming forward requesting funding.
“You have voiced what a great many people have been saying however, this was an extraordinary circumstance, and on this occasion I have no issue standing behind this,” added Coun. Susan Scott.
However, both Coun. Trudy Klassen and Mayor Simon Yu supported Skakun’s concerns.
“There are many people downtown especially in the last few years and their property has been damaged through no fault of their own, and if it is just one incident and we are doing this, that perhaps there will be some precedent set,” said Yu.
“It has been made clear in the initial intention referring this back to staff that this is a one-time thing,” noted Coun. Cori Ramsay.
“A significant number of businesses were affected by an unanticipated event, and I understand that there have been a lot frustration over downtown but this is a way where we can direct some funds to the DBIA to really help a lot of businesses that were impacted from this explosion.”
City manager Walter Babicz noted that the program would not legally set a precedent.
“I can’t predict how many more asks you will get as a result of this but there is nothing requiring council to repeat this type of programming in the future. It would be on a case-by-case basis on council’s discretion.”
When it came to a vote, the initiative was passed with Coun. Skakun, Klassen and Mayor Simon Yu in opposition.