City tax levy boosted $1.4 million in name of downtown

City council approved Monday a $1.4-million package of measures aimed at making downtown Prince George a safer and cleaner place while also boosting the property tax levy by 1.29 per cent.

The jump will come on top of an already-approved 2.15-per-cent increase, raising the increase to 3.44 per cent.

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In all, five enhancements were approved at the end of an hour-long discussion:

- $400,000 for full-time security guards at the Four Seasons Leisure Pool, the Tourism Prince George office on First Avenue, the Civic Centre during events, and periodic security at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena and Canada Games Plaza area, plus $50,000 for security-related hardware such as locks and fobs.

- $236,000 to maintain the downtown homeless service hubs at 181 Quebec St., across from the Ketso Yoh men's shelter, and at the Association Advocating for Women and Community building at 144 George St. They provide outreach services, as well as storage, laundry, showers and washrooms and, at AWAC, sleeping facilities.

- $273,249 for two seven-member RCMP patrols at six hours each per week for nine months.

- $189,051 to upgrade two bylaw compliance assistants to bylaw enforcement officers and add two more bylaw enforcement officers to increase the service to seven days per week and over extended hours from the current 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday-to-Friday schedule.

- $274,495 to hire an equipment operator on a year-round basis and two labourers for nine months of the year to clean up camps and deal with needles and other types of litter.

The steps won't provide the complete answer to the city's social ills, Mayor Lyn Hall warned.

"There is no one solution," Hall said. "By implementing one or all of these this evening, it does not say that we're going to cure this. What this is, is really our best shot at getting an upper hand."

Other council members expressed similar positions.

"I believe that all of this amounts to the cost of doing business and the cost of being in a community and dealing with people who cannot pay their share and who bring with them a variety of issues," said Coun. Susan Scott. "That's part of us, it's part of who we are as an entire community and how we respond says a lot about us."

Coun. Frank Everitt made note of BC Housing's plan to build 50 units of supportive housing and 50 units of rental homes for low-income people at 805 First Ave., the current home of NR Motors. (Council passed the proposal through the public hearing stage later the same meeting). He said the whole package must be adopted to be effective and support the BC Housing effort.

While residents don't want to see a 3.44-per-cent increase to the levy, Coun. Cori Ramsay noted 140 people showed up to the community meeting on the issue in December, "to tell us there is a problem and it needs a solution."

Coun. Kyle Sampson voted against two of the items while the rest drew unanimous support. Coun. Brian Skakun was absent from the meeting.

Sampson suggested staff could work within the existing budget when it comes to hiring private security and the crew to clean up the camps.

City manager Kathleen Soltis said staff has been trying to fund some of the services from within their budgets but are unable.

"We're pushing the boundaries and those budgets are going over," Soltis said.

Coun. Murry Krause supported Soltis, saying council has already gone through the budget.

"We have a need in our community that needs to be dealt with and I think if we're going to do it, we might as well do it right," Krause said.

Staff may not necessarily spend all the money allotted, Krause added. "They will find savings if they can," he said.

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