Final election forum showcases city council hopefuls
As the race for a space on city council comes to a close this week, candidates had a chance to voice their views on several issues, with a focus on city spending, Monday night at the Ramada during the final all-candidates forum.
Six councillors were asked their view on a report from the CFIB in December 2010 naming Prince George as the worst performing municipality in Canada when it comes to overspending, and what could be done to rectify that problem.
Harry Ulch suggested a management review and cutbacks to city employees through attrition.
“I think a lot of work could be cut back,” he said. “I think employees are the biggest expense to the taxpayer.”
He said the city employs about 900 people.
Cameron Stolz said the report was based on older statistics and didn’t take the last three years into account, a time during which the city has started to change spending habits. He said he helped save the tax payers $750,000 annually by changing the way city vehicles are purchased, and in the future he will continue to look for those efficiencies.
John Beebe said everything needs to be reviewed. One of the things he’d like to do is put a freeze on out-of-town trips for the mayor and council. He also said the city spent a lot of money pursuing a court case over a period of three years just to drop it in the end.
“If it was that important, why drop it?” he asked.
The city’s reputation as a high-cost municipality rose again in a question directed to other candidates, including incumbent mayor Dan Rogers.
“Just because you say it’s so doesn’t make it so,” he said and added the rating for the city has dropped significantly over the years.
He pointed out the comparison was made to other communities in B.C., yet if you compare costs to winter cities, like Lethbridge, Prince George rates close to if not lower than those municipalities.
Shari Green pointed out the first line in her platform calls for city departments to find 10 per cent savings and added the proposed 7.3 per cent budget increase called for this year is unacceptable.
Questions regarding fiscal responsibility continued with candidates being asked about cutting core services, with a particular emphasis on the large chunk of the budget taken up by protective services like the fire department.
“We can’t cut protective services like the fire and police,” Debora Munoz said. “But we have to look at what’s left in the pot.”
Myrt Turner agreed that protective services are essential, however she said she’s seen times when there is no need for more than the ambulance to be dispatched, yet fire rescue attends the scene as well. Changing dispatching protocols might improve efficiencies, she said.
“We have to think outside of the box when it comes to generating revenue,” Brian Skakun said.
He said one way might be to bill ICBC when emergency vehicles go out to aid those involved in collisions.
“We don’t need to cut core services, just cut back,” said Scot Affleck. “Common sense – we don’t have it in this town. We can’t leave well enough alone, like that hot water pipe running down George Street.”
The Downtown Energy System was brought up again in a question directed to mayoral hopefuls, Rogers and Green, specifically the payback period for the project and whether or not they would support an external audit since much of the work was done by the city instead of contractors.
The decision to use city workers was made when the lowest bid for the contract came in higher than expected, and the city could complete the work cheaper.
Rogers said there will be positive cash flow from the project the year it is put in operation, however the payback period for the project is 20 to 30 years. Meanwhile, the project will ensure improved air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions. He added an external audit would be appropriate to look at.
Green said, as a businesswoman, the 20 to 30 year payback isn’t good.
“It’s terrible, but for me it’s not always about business,” she said.
The positives of the project, like removing particulate from the air, made it worth it. She was also in favour of an external audit.
Green and Rogers also got the opportunity to discuss the decision to improve the Kin Centre as opposed to building another stand-alone arena. They were asked if either would work to reverse the decision to renovate the Kin Centre if elected.
Green said she supported the concept of the stand-alone arena.
“I didn’t believe we’d borrow or go into debt for it,” she said and added other capital projects could have been postponed, like one set to do a study on a road that would not be constructed for 20 years. “But I would not reverse it because I respect the decision that council as a whole makes.”
Rogers said he was the person who brought the stand-alone arena back to council with an eye toward returning to the original plan, which meant renovating the Kin Centre.
“We cannot afford it. We can’t build more and expect to spend less,” he said.
For a look at what each candidate stands for, check out What You Need To Know For The Election at www.pgfreepress.com. Polls open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Nov. 19.
Watch for results on the Prince George Free Press website.