Prince George vetoes new climate change position

City councillors in Prince George have decided to hold off on creating a position for a climate change and energy co-ordinator to work within its newly-formed environmental services department.

The position had been proposed for 2020, and would have added $100,407 in salary and benefits to the city payroll — and bumping an approved 2.15% tax hike up to 2.25%.

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The proposed cost of the position did not include a BC Hydro grant for energy management the city is eligible to receive, which could reduce what the city pays by as much as $50,000 over each of the next two years.  

Coun. Cori Ramsay said the city would not continue to receive a grant beyond the next two years and decided it’s in the best interest of taxpayers to wait another year before committing to the position. 

“We will have to fully fund this position eventually,” Ramsay said.

“Environmental issues and climate control are very important but I just think, given our position with downtown social issues, that’s my priority and that’s what I want to focus on."

Council voted unanimously Monday to create a new environmental services division within the infrastructure and public works department, which will consolidate existing environmental positions into a single division.

Coun. Garth Frizzell said other municipalities recognize the need for a climate change specialist who understands the increasing regulations on carbon emissions cities are required to follow, and can explain how to develop environmental strategies.

“We get increasing incentives for meeting some of the more difficult-to-achieve environmental regulations and I know that burden’s getting heavier,” said Frizzell.

Frizzell has long been a proponent of initiatives to reduce the city’s carbon footprint, and has seen the city takes steps to reduce fine particulate emissions through its downtown district energy project. Through a system of tunnels dug under city streets, the project provides heat generated at Lakeland Mills by burning wood waste to heat downtown buildings. Similar bioenergy projects are in place at UNBC and Canfor Pulp.

“We’re actually a very green city,” said Frizzell.

“We’re one of the first five to meet the regulations on greenhouse gas emissions in this province, if not Canada. So we can really benefit from some of the advanced work that administration has been doing for more than a decade."

Mayor Lyn Hall also supported the climate change staff position.

“The budget being approved for the environmental department is an important first step and we’ll see how the department goes over the next 12 months and if the enhancement for another position is required than it will definitely come forward in the 2021 budget,” said Hall. 

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