Terrace residents won’t be asked for what they want

City council ditches idea of including residents in major spending decisions

At last night’s meeting, city council addressed something it has been grappling with for some time, which is how to engage Terrace residents to find out what projects they see as priorities.

The idea has been promoted by councillor Stacey Tyers and is called participatory budgeting, a method that’s used in New York and which has also been tried in Guelph, Ontario.

“It’a way of gauging what the community sees as a priority,” said Tyers of surveying local residents.

She did concede it would take up the time of city employees.

At a previous meeting council had asked employees to explore ways of involving residents in decisions tied to civic improvements in light of an expected influx of newcomers.

The tentative project list included a second overpass over CN’s tracks, a pedestrian overpass, road improvement projects, and pool upgrades.

Corporate administrator Alisa Thompson presented several options to council including a plan for an online survey modelled after a similar one done annually in Prince George by the University of Northern BC’s Institute for Social Research and Evaluation.

The cost of this option is $5,000 plus staff time and it was the option supported by Tyers and councillor Brian Downie.

“We have talked many times about the need for communication with the community,” said Downie in support of this option.

He added that it would be part of a push to get people involved in a social media discussion about the direction that Terrace is heading.

Option two was to have a mail-out questionnaire sent to residents by the same UNBC agency instead of the online survey. It would cost $15,000 to $20,000, including a study by the UNBC agency.

“I’d be very hesitant to spend upwards of $20,000 to get people’s opinions about capital projects if for no other reason than the fear I’d get their opinion about spending the $20,000,” said councillor James Cordeiro of that option.

Councillor Marylin Davies, filling in for an absent Dave Pernarowski last night, agreed, arguing that elected officials should act and not get mired in perpetual studies and second guessing.

A third option was to hire a polling firm such as Ipsos Public Affairs to do a telephone survey using questions forged by council and employees.

After the debate, Downie put forward the motion that “we implement option one to create a survey of the community’s capital projects priorities.”

The motion for any kind of contact with the public was defeated by a three to two vote, with Tyers and Downie in favour and councillor Lynne Christiansen, Davies and Cordeiro against the motion.

Residents can, however, still speak with council members about financial issues at a 2014 budget open house happening in a couple of weeks.