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Council adopts downtown plan; overall tax increase to be 3.44 per cent

A homeless man at his camp spot at the foot of Third Avenue in Prince George. Bill Phillips photo

City council has approved the budget proposals designed to help deal with homelessness and crime issues downtown, bringing the total tax increase for 2020 to 3.44 per cent.

Council had already approved a general tax levy increase of 1.89 per cent plus an increase of .26 per cent to fund a data processor supervisor, a forensic video Analyst, and a planner.

On Monday, it approved the entire Downtown Safe, Clean, and Inclusive package, which has a tax levy impact of 1.29 per cent.

Mayor Lyn Hall said it’s been “three years since we’ve seen a significant difference in our community,” regarding of homelessness in the community. He praised the efforts the city has done, so far, to deal with the issue.

“When we talk about the 180-190 camps that we took down, everyone thinks it was in the downtown area,” he said. “There were some I could see from my office, some that I could see when I went to Pine Centre, but they were all over the community.”

He stressed that the problems are throughout the community.

“There is no one solution,” he said. “By implementing one, or all, of these this evening this does not say ‘we’re going to cure this.’ What this does say is it’s our best shot at getting the upper hand.”

The changes to help downtown include $400,000 for security enhancements in city facilities; security upgrades for downtown parkades (paid through the parking levy); $50,000 for miscellaneous hardware costs; $236,000 to help with staffing at downtown service hubs; $273,249 for seven two-member RCMP patrols at six hours per week for nine months; $189,0051 to upgrade two bylaw compliance assistants for bylaw enforcement officers and two more bylaw enforcement officers; $$274,495 to hire a year-round equipment operator, two labourers for nine months, and equipment.

Councillors did have some discussion about whether to accept all of the funding increases. Coun. Cori Ramsay, however, took her cue from a jam-packed council chambers last fall when the downtown issues came to a head.

“I’m going to be supporting the entire package,” said Ramsay. “I know that it is going to be a burden to the tax levy and residents don’t want to see a 3.44 per cent tax increase, but thinking back to our December community meeting we had 140 people show up to tell us there’s a problem and this Is the solution our staff has provided.”

Coun. Kyle Sampson said he agrees wholeheartedly that something needs to be done to alleviate problems downtown, but had issues with the amount of the tax increase.

“My struggle is trying to justify the increase,” he said. “As much as I believe this needs to go forward, I also see the struggle of at what expense and is there any opportunity to find any of this within our scope of business already.”

He wondered whether if the make the increase this year, can it be brought out of the budget next year and have a “temporary burden” on our tax base.

Coun. Murry Krause, however, supported the entire package.

“We have a need in our community that needs to be dealt with,” said Coun. Murry Krause. “I think if we’re going to do it, we need to do it right.”

He added that simply because council passes an amount doesn’t mean that staff will necessarily spend it.

“We have staff doing things they weren’t hired to do,” he said. “They were hired to plant flowers and weed and they’re picking up needles. We have to put our attention to that.”

Hall added that other entities in the community have a role to play. He also pointed out there are provincial and federal responsibilities as well.

Sampson voted against the security enhancements and the hiring of equipment operators. All the other changes were passed unanimously.

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