The Last Council Meeting of 2012 (Dec. 17 at the Shaw Auditorium)

Ron Bolin: Dec. 14, 2012

Monday’s final Council meeting for 2012 should prove to be a blockbuster event with something for almost everyone.  We will hear about our Local Health Area Profiles, from VIHA; receive notice of our purchase of a portion of the Wellcox lands downtown from Canadian Pacific Railways; Give some $65,000 to Loaves and Fishes; get an update on the Harewood Neighbourhood Plan Process; deal with a couple of Development Variance permits, a rezoning and two subdivision approvals; learn that we are paying a firm $39,999 to take our old annex in which we have invested multi-millions off our hands; approve a 60 year lease on a City property; deal with a couple of building deficiencies; listen to any citizen or group input to the 2013-2017 budget and plan; hear Staff respond to the meeting held last week on the Colliery Dams situation as well as hear some delegations on the subject; receive the minutes of a couple of meetings of the Transportation Advisory Committee; adopt a “User Fee Subsidy Amendment Bylaw”; receive some correspondence; and hear Notices of Motion from four Councillors.

If there is not something there to feed your imagination, your fortune or your fear, you may be comatose.  Many of these items grab my attention:

  • How is our local health doing and how do we compare to other communities?
  • The purchase by the City of some 10.8 hectares (26.7 acres) of waterfront land in the Wellcox Rail Yard for $3,400,000 which was approved in an In-Camera meeting back on October 1 seems to have immediately raised a furor of “Nanaimo needs a Multiplex” talk suggesting that this purchase was not all that secret to those in the know.  It remains to be seen whether this purchase can be a major step to downtown building or just another cause which seeks taxpayer funding.  At least now the imaginations of all our citizens can chew on the possibilities and not just those who seem to be able to pierce the In-Camera veil at their leisure.
  • Other than a nod to the good intentions of spending public money on “good works” rather than leaving folks to make their own giving decisions, I leave the significance of the $65,000 purchase of equipment for Loaves and Fishes to those with more insight into this area to decide whether this is the highest and best use of the funds.  Personally I have no reason to doubt it.
  • I don’t have much to say about the Development Variance Permits on Rosstown Road or Uplands drive other than to note that it appears that a large proportion of our development is by variance rather than by the rules and the same could be said about rezonings.  Similarly we do of cash-in-Lieu of the 5% of the land in subdivisions which is called for.  The sums involved are not shown in the reports but are based on the value of the original parcel before subdivision.  The process of subdivision creates a much higher value to the land in question and should, in my mind, provide the basis for the in-lieu value.  Why does the city give away its services in the land development process?
  • “At the 2012-AUG-27 “In Camera” Committee of the Whole Meeting, Council directed Staff to transfer the land and building at 238 Franklyn Street to Tectonica Management.” At another In Camera meeting on Dec. 3, 2012, Council decided to formalize this decision and at this meeting (Dec. 17, 2012) some of the pertinent information has finally been released to the public through a Staff report which is included in the agenda. In brief, we, the City, have undertaken to transfer the land and building to Tectonica Management Inc. for the sum of $1 dollar (one dollar).  In addition, “The City of Nanaimo will pay $40,000 (the equivalent of two year’s property taxes) to Tectonica as a performance bonus upon removal of the development covenant if the conditions are met within the two-year time frame.”  We are paying them to either fix it or take it away.  Nanaimo taxpayers purchased this property, apparently without due diligence, less than 14 years ago in 1999 for $1.6 million dollars and have spent millions in various upgrades and renovations since. The assessment on the property for 2012 was $3,947,000 with the land value having increased from 2011 to 2012 by 11.6%…. Someone at City Hall seems to have leaped before they looked and now Nanaimo taxpayers are left to pay for the consequences.  How do we avoid further such mistakes of failure to perform due diligence in the future?
  • Following some housekeeping we come to an open mike session on the 2012-2017 budget/plan where any citizen can make suggestions or ask questions, such as why is our budget for 2013 set for nearly $15 million dollars more than it was projected to be last year and why are we borrowing $20 million in 2013? Where is the $180 million in planned capital spending over the next years to come from?  And how is it that given as estimate of an $11 million dollar shortfall this year and some $7 million allotted to the Colliery Dam question, that taxes are scheduled to rise so little?  If you look through the budget I am sure that you can find many questions.  After all, the budget really is the road on which the municipal wagon is set to run and it can take us wherever we let it.
  • Then we come to the Colliery Dams issue and the meeting between engaged citizens and Staff.  A number of issues remain outstanding; among them the options open for mitigation of the problems and their cost.  Of course eliminating the dams is a kind of “Final Solution”, but then every problem can be solved by simply eliminating its existence… Is this what we want to do?  There will be presentations from concerned citizens and no doubt some further discussion from Staff.  To date I have heard opinions, albeit professional, but in the absence of knowledge of what is hidden in the landscape here I believe we could find ourselves in another situation analogous to that of the old city annex, i.e. paying dearly for quick solution to a problem which is insufficiently defined.
  • Among other housekeeping items is a letter advising that we will receive a Gas Tax Agreement Community Works Fund payment of $1,082,403.38. I don’t understand this, but income is always welcome.
  • And finally we come to the Notices of Motion from our Councillors.  There are more, I believe on this one night, than we had in the entire rest of the year and whether this is a result of the end of the Maya calendar or the end of 2012, they do have heft and can significant effect on the way we do business in Nanaimo.

Councillor Kipp will be moving:

“That Council direct Staff to start the process of a core service review (CSR).”

This has been under discussion for a number of years, deserves consideration and could work to clarify the essentials of municipal operations.

Councillor Brennan will be moving:

“That Council request that the Planning Department review the riparian setback variation policy, in consultation with the Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability (ACES), the Development Process Review Committee (DPRC) and the development community, and forward any resulting recommendations for change for Council’s consideration.”

This issue has come before Council on several occasions lately.

Councillor Anderson will be moving:

“That Council direct Staff to investigate the feasibility for further public participation and engagement on the budget such as a town hall or electronic town hall meetings.”

Anything that will engage citizens in the consideration of the most important document that any government produces is to be highly desired.  While plans are all well and good, it is what is in a budget that either makes or breaks them.  Hope it passes.

Councillor Pattje will be moving:

“ At the Regular Committee of the Whole Meeting held 2012-DEC-10, Councillor Pattje advised that he would be bringing forward the following motion for consideration at the 2012-DEC-17 Council Meeting:

WHEREAS the Council adopted a resolution on February 27, 2012 to relocate all Committee of the Whole meetings at the Shaw Auditorium for the remainder of 2012 or until such time as the Board Room in the new Annex Building has been completed;

WHEREAS the Council adopted a resolution on April 23, 2012 that the Committee of the Whole meetings be video recorded and placed on the City Website; and,

WHEREAS there is a significant cost to install video recording equipment in the new Service and Resource Centre Board Room and this equipment is already in the Shaw Auditorium;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct Staff to amend the Council Key Date Calendar 2013 to give notice that all future Committee of the Whole meetings will be held at the Shaw Auditorium and that such meetings continue to be video recorded and placed on the City Website.”

Without this being passed there will be no video record of any COW (Committee of the Whole) meetings and the public  will be unable to see their Council in Action.  Many, if not most, of the Staff presentations and Council discussions on the budget and other finance and policy issues take place at the COW.  As the matter now stands, COW meetings, which take place at 4:30 in the afternoon, will be moving to a board room in the new Annex which can hold only a very limited audience which can be packed if desired, and which will not be captured on video for viewing by the public on the City’s web site.  The only record will be a paper record which can be manipulated and the public’s right to know what their Council is doing will be severely abridged.  Let’s hope it passes…

If you want to see the full agenda and attached reports, go to:

Hope to see you there.