Council vetoes new climate change position

City council decided at its Monday public meeting to hold off on creating a position for a climate change and energy coordinator to work within its newly-formed environmental services department.

The position had been proposed as a budget enhancement for 2020, which would have added $100,407 in salary and benefits to the city payroll. It would have bumped the 2.15 per cent tax hike already approved by council to 2.25 per cent.

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The proposed cost of the position did not include a BC Hydro grant for energy management the city is eligible to receive, which could reduce what the city pays by as much as $50,000 over each of the next two years.  

Coun. Cori Ramsay said the city would not continue to receive a grant beyond the next two years and decided it’s in the best interest of taxpayers to wait another year before committing to the position. Depending on the findings of the city’s Select Committee for a Safe Clean and Inclusive Downtown, which will have its inaugural meeting Wednesday afternoon, Ramsay said the tax rate increase the city will face in 2020 could jump another 1.89 per cent.

“We will have to fully fund this position eventually,” Ramsay said. “There’s a significant portion of the tax levy we haven’t really discussed and I think we have to be more prudent than we want to be this year, especially given the downtown social issues.

“Environmental issues and climate control are very important but I just think, given our position with downtown social issues, that’s my priority and that’s what I want to focus on. We are forming a new department this year and I want to see how that works and how it interacts with our customers and our other departments before we start adding more positions.”

Council voted unanimously Monday to create a new environmental services division within the infrastructure and public works department to consolidate the existing environmental positions into a single division. The net labour cost increase of bringing all environmental staff together in one division will be $8,245.

 Coun. Garth Frizzell spoke in favour of adding the position, saying other municipalities recognize the need for a climate change specialist who understands the increasing regulations on carbon emissions cities are required to follow and can explain to city staff how to develop environmental strategies to implement those commitments.

“We get increasing incentives for meeting some of the more difficult-to-achieve environmental regulations and I know that burden’s getting heavier,” said Frizzell. “On top of it, being a relatively small number compared to how much we receive in return, we’re also seeing there’s lots of granting opportunities. We talked about one tonight that was for $50,000 a year for two years but I know other communities have been putting their climate change coordinators in place and are receiving grants and assistance as well. There are other agencies that could help fund that going forward.”

Frizzell, who was first elected to council in 2008, has long been a proponent of initiatives to reduce the city’s carbon footprint and has seen the city takes steps to reduce fine particulate emissions through its downtown district energy project, which was funded by federal grants and began operating in June 2012. Through a system of tunnels dug under city streets, the project provides heat generated at Lakeland Mills by burning wood waste to heat downtown buildings. Similar bioenergy projects are in place at UNBC and Canfor Pulp.

“We’re actually a very green city,” said Frizzell. “We’re one of the first five to meet the regulations on greenhouse gas emissions in this province, if not Canada. So we can really benefit from some of the advanced work that administration has been doing for more than a decade.

“We’ll see what happens. In another year, that position may come back with the grants intact in advance. We get requirements to comply with new wastewater treatment regulations… and with a wide variety of things related to solid waste management as well. The regulatory burden from the federal and provincial governments increases every year. So at some point it’s going to come, we can’t just turn our eyes. We’re not allowed to not follow regulations.”

Mayor Lyn Hall also supported the climate change staff position and agreed with Frizzell that it will come up for discussion again.

“The budget being approved for the environmental department is an important first step and we’ll see how the department goes over the next 12 months and if the enhancement for another position is required than it will definitely come forward in the 2021 budget,” said Hall.

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Among other agenda items council considered, a request from the organizing committee for the 2020 Native Canadian Fastball Championships for $48,133 in funding from the city’s major events reserve was approved. Of that total, $26,300 will cover rental and service of city parks and $21,833 will be used to purchase a portable backstop and fencing which will allow fastball to be played in existing baseball fields in Carrie Jane Gray Park.  The event, July 31-Aug. 3, will include six divisions and will involve as many as 80 teams and 1,200 players. Colin Carson, manager of sport tourism for Tourism PG, anticipated an economic impact of the $3.4 million for the four-day tournament in business for hotels, restaurants and other service-related industries in and around the city.  

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The owners of a house at 1103 Chilako Ave., destroyed in a Oct. 12, 2019 fire that killed a 40-year-old and left three others injured, were ordered by council to demolish what’s left of the structure, remove debris from the yard and level the site to eliminate what the city has deemed a safety hazard and nuisance property. The work must be completed by Feb. 28 unless a request to reconsider the remedial action requirements is submitted by Feb. 5. Failure to comply will result in a lien being placed on the property.

The fire, which was fuelled by gasoline stored on the site, resulted in damage estimated at $400,000. The owners, Harjinder John Singh Berar and Spuran Kaur Sidhu, did not have fire insurance. Fred Crittenden, the city’s manager of bylaw services, said the owners have not responded to written requests sent by mail and posted on the property to remediate the property  

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Concert goers who plan on attending the third annual Cariboo Rocks the North classic rockfest at Exhibition Park in Aug. 7-9 will be allowed to camp overnight at the site after council approved a plan to allow as many as 100 self-contained campsites. The site will be operated by the B.C. Northern Exhibition and 24/7 security will be provided.

Council gave approval for a pilot project to allow 80 camp sites during the event last August and on Monday passed a motion to give city administration the authority to allow camping at Exhibition Park for other events on a case-by-case basis.

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Mayor Hall began Monday’s meeting by addressing a delegation from the Friends of the Prince George Library. He told council and city staff that in the 30 years since the non-profit group formed in January 1990, it has raised $450,000 in donations to improve the two library branches in the city and support library programs and initiatives. Of that total, $170,000 was spent on purchasing audio books and $30,000 was used for the Prince George newspaper digitization project which created an online search engine for back issues of the Prince George Citizen, dating back to when it was first published in 1916, as well as that of other now-defunct newspapers. The mayor will also consider the group’s revised request that Feb. 3- 9 be proclaimed as Friends of the Prince George Library Week.

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