Audio equipment in Terrace city council chambers photographed Aug. 21, 2020. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)

Audio equipment in Terrace city council chambers photographed Aug. 21, 2020. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)

Unknown costs hold up provincial grant spending by Terrace council

Council wrestles with budget planning for next year

It’s going to be awhile yet before Terrace city council can fully spend the nearly $15-million it got from the provincial government in two instalments in 2019 and 2020.

So far about two-thirds of the total has either been spent already or, if council approves its latest five-year financial plan, will be committed up until 2025.

That’ll leave around $5.5-million sitting in a city reserve account, a sum council members were eager to allocate when they met for a first run-through of capital spending plans.

But city finance director Lori Greenlaw cautioned council members to wait until the financial implications of two pending city tasks are known.

One is a further refinement of the city’s current three-bin garbage/recycling/organics collection service in which it wants to focus on yard waste, something that may require the purchase of a stand-alone vehicle.

The second financial unknown facing the city is the bill for the work tied to the full closure of the city’s landfill up Hwy 113, a facility taken out of service when the city joined forces with the Kitimat-Stikine regional district and brought in the three-bin garbage/recycling/organics collection program.

The landfill sits on a rise above the Kalum River and still leaches liquid, known as leachate, down into the river, a factor that’s drawn the attention of the environment ministry.

Organic and inorganics such as ammonia and metals are contained in the leachate and that doesn’t meet provincial standards for water quality for aquatic life.

What’s required now is a system of baffles to filter the leachate and an aeration method to treat the liquid prior to it seeping down into the river.

A cost approaching $1-million has been estimated but a final price tag won’t be known until either later this year or into early next year.

Waiting until these costs are known fits the city’s so-far use of the provincial monies as a piggybank into which it can dip as the need arises or for projects it might otherwise pay for through its own reserves or by tax increases.

“This acts as a contingency fund for those projects that come up in mid-year,” Greenlaw told council of the provincial monies formally called the Northern Capital and Planning Grant.

She also said the money is being used to finance the majority of the city’s capital projects over the next several years.

The city got $8.197-million in 2019 and $6.531-million in 2020 for a total of $14.728-million. It’s money the city can use as it sees fit for capital spending or planning on how to spend it.

The grant proved useful this year when the city needed to come up with more than $750,000 in unforeseen repair costs to stop sections of Lanfear Hill and Birch Hill from sliding away.

And it’ll prove useful in the next several years when council considers that a first contemplated cost of $500,000 to replace the refrigeration plant at the arena has now ballooned to an estimated $1.8-million.

Councillor Brian Downie, although acknowledging the unknown project costs mentioned by Greenlaw, questioned the need to have the $5.5-million sitting as unallocated.

“I would hope we could have a more active commitment of those funds rather than holding them up for five more years,” he said.

Councillor Sean Bujtas generally agreed with Downie but said he was comfortable having the money sit unallocated until a better idea of the yard waste and landfill closure costs.

Greenlaw said the budget can be adjusted as required as the financial picture comes clearer.

She did add that planned expenditures for next year will max out the city’s capacity as it is without using more of the provincial grant.

Mayor Carol Leclerc did not question the need to keep a sum of money tucked away for now, but did say it raises eyebrows elsewhere.

“When we’re out banging on the door of the provincial government for everything we can, it just makes it look really awkward for us,” she said.