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City Council, March 22

Budget for 2011 in line – so far
Paper bags mandated for garden refuse collection

Marc Knapp

If the first quarter is any indication, the City should be within its budget projections for this fiscal year, CFO Bedard told Council last night. However he did warn that these were still early days and the recent figures were not conclusive.

Mr. Bedard noted that fuel costs were running over budget, a reflection of the recent rise in gas and diesel prices. If prices continued in the $3.40 to $3.60 a gallon range, the City could be $500,000 to $600,000 over budget for the full year. Fortunately this increase was offset by some other factors. Business license fees were higher than budget and assuming the higher rate continued, they could amount to about $750.000 more than budgeted. He also commented the early retirement plan was working well with savings running close to that budgeted. He also talked about the possibility of eliminating some positions and further savings.

Although his remarks were encouraging, he reminded Council members that revenues were still well below that of 2009.

Unenthusiastic endorsement for paper bags
Council was not very enthusiastic about forcing City residents to use paper bags in which to place their garden refuse preparatory for collection. But in view of the County decision not to accept garden trash in plastic bags, it seems to us the City had little choice.

As staff reminded Council, the County was trying to save space in the Bees Ferry landfill. Garden waste has been mulched and available for sale in the past. But unfortunately the mulching process included the plastic bags which made the mulch un-saleable. So – no more plastic bags after June 30 this year.

The County did not tell the municipalities that they had to use paper bags but it was the only realistic alternative. Municipalities could choose to allow citizens to leave garden waste un-bagged. But the collection of un-bagged waste would have been a costly challenge, very unsightly and with the likelihood of many clogged drains.

Council members were not too enthusiastic about paper bags either. They were not durable, particularly in wet weather and could prove expensive. Staff told Council that the County was working to ensure that supplies were carried by a number of retailers. Somebody noted that the cost of five 30 gallon bags was $1.50 - cheap perhaps, but still above the unit cost of a plastic bag.

Council voted in favor of paper bags for garden waste collection.

More rickshaws on the Peninsula
Nobody seemed to be against approving more licenses to operate rickshaws (pedicabs) on the Peninsula during the day and night. But some were opposed to boosting these numbers by 10 during “special events”

Present regulations permit a maximum of 15 rickshaws to operate on the Peninsula at any time – day and night. Because of the high usage, the new regulations will permit 15 rickshaws to operate at any time of the day, and another 15 rickshaws to operate at night only – from 6.30 pm to 3 am Monday to Friday, and 5 pm to 3 am on Saturday and Sunday.

The “operating decal” will now be issued on a competitive bidding process “the first decal to the highest bidder, the second decal to the second highest bidder and so forth until all decals have bee distributed”. The decals will have a currency of up to 5 years

No owner of a rickshaw company can be the recipient of more than 49% of either the general operating decals or the nighttime decals.

Council member were divided equally over the extra 10 slots for special events. And as Council member Gregorie pointed out, it was a moot issue. The rickshaw owners said that it was unlikely they would take advantage of the provision. Presumably it would not be worth while to buy extra rickshaws which would remain unused for most of the year and on which fees would need to be paid. However, the provision of another 10 rickshaws remained in the amended ordinance.

A deferral on Angel Oak greenbelt funding request
Council voted to defer a decision on the proposed application for greenbelt funds to buy 6.5 acres abutting Angel Oak, a decision in line with that of the Real Estate Committee on Monday. We did not attend the Real Estate Committee meeting and there was no discussion yesterday. But from Citizens’ comments, the Committee deferred a decision to further study the issue and obtain another valuation.

The City is planning to seek $500,000 from greenbelt funds generated by the half-cent sales tax. Presumably the application would be made through the Urban Grants Review Committee and, if successful the City would be allocated the amount from the unused balance that is available to it.

We don’t pretend to fully understand all that has transpired at Angel Oak. There have been a number of changes and challenges to the development plans, which now involves some 630 units on 42 acres, we believe. But the comments made by two citizens last night may have merit.

The 6.5 acres the developer is attempting to sell, and the City buy is classified as Conservation in the PUD. According to the Coastal Conservation League (CCL), no development is allowed in this area. So why is the City paying so much for the land? The original cost to the owner of the whole parcel was $83,000 an acre, the citizens say. The developer will sell the 6.5 acres for $80,000 an acre and is claming the value is only 20% of the market.

A valuation obtained by CCL in 2009 for 14.3 acres of the development property amounted to $138,000 an acre. The appraisal assumes all the land is highland and includes no wetlands. It makes no mention of “conservation” areas which would normally depress a valuation. But we concede, the valuation does not make the $80,000 per acre figure unrealistic though the developer’s alleged claim of an 80% discount to the market seems very much so.

Given the nature of the times and the depressed market for real estate, and very depressed market for land compared to values a few years ago, the citizens may have a point. Council seems to think similarly. The City may have a reasonable explanation for paying what it plans but Council would like to hear it.

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