An accounting error in the city’s 2019 budget is good news for the residents and businesses of Salmon Arm.
At their Jan. 14 meeting, city council learned from chief financial officer Chelsea Van de Capelle that, subsequent to the budget receiving three readings on Jan. 7, the proposed municipal tax increase had since been reduced from 4.25 per cent to 3.3 per cent.
“Following that meeting, in my reconciliation process I determined there was a calculation error in some expenses that were brought forward,” said Van de Capelle. “This resulted in reduced expenditures of approximately $167,200. At this point, I have reduced the tax rate to 3.3 from 4.25 as a result of these reduced expenditures.”
This correction provided council the opportunity to make changes to the budget before giving another three readings to City of Salmon Arm 2019 to 2023 Financial Plan Bylaw No. 4302. Van de Capelle noted staff had eliminated several expenditures from the budget to reduce the tax increase to 4.88 per cent, as was originally proposed.
Mayor Alan Harrison encouraged council to leave the increase at 3.3 per cent, noting council and the city would be doing a review of the parcel tax, and any increase that might come out of that would be applicable to 2019.
“We know the parcel tax is used for asphaltic overlays,” explained Harrison. “So if we’re able to lower the tax rate here, and we need to increase the parcel tax to improve the roads, I think that would be the way to go rather than take this amount and apply it to something like roads. This is not an annual amount that would go in, where you know the parcel tax will go forward annually.”
Council took time to consider this suggestion, but wound up agreeing to leave the increase at 3.3.
“This decision-making process was a very well-considered one; it took an entire day of our time and months of staff time,” commented Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond. “I’m reluctant to revisit it at the moment… I anticipate there will be changes as the year goes ahead. I would rather just leave it at the reduced rate and consider changes throughout the year ahead.”
Coun. Kevin Flynn said he thought there were some things council should revisit, but agreed to leave the tax increase, noting there could be other tax increases coming from other agencies.
“The CSRD (Columbia Shuswap Regional District) budgeting process is starting next week and the hospital district is starting in February, and we’ve heard there’s significant demands coming form IHA (Interior Health),” said Flynn. “So perhaps, as much as it’s against what I want to do, perhaps it’s prudent to just leave this as is. Like I said, it’s good news that it’s not an increase by one per cent.”
The following are some of the highlights from council’s 2019 budget deliberations, listed by department:
Protection services (fire services)
This departmental budget sees an increase in operating costs due to new equipment purchases in 2018 ($14,200) and wage increases ($13,000). Fire Chief Brad Shirley commented there would be very little new spending in 2019. The budget includes a transfer of $185,000 to the Fire Apparatus Reserve, which city chief financial officer Chelsea Van de Cappelle noted is deficient by $1.6 million.
Shirley said the department is going to have to replace its administration vehicle next year and, in 2021, its aerial ladder truck, which costs approximately $1.2 million.
Council passed a motion to increase projected revenues from building and plumbing permits in the building services budget from $358,000 to $400,000. Mayor Alan Harrison noted the city is being conservative with revenues and realistic with expenditures. While he agreed 2019 might not be as strong as 2018, Harrison doesn’t think the city is going to see 33 per cent less revenue.
The police services budget gets an increase of $227,765, with the police force budget increasing by $133,243, attributed largely to wage increases, training, fuel and administration costs. In a presentation to council, Staff Sgt. Scott West outlined the wide array of costs associated with policing, stressing a need for additional staffing to deal with such things as media information requests and transcription of statements. In addition, there are technology and vehicle requirements, as well as necessary improvements/upgrades to the detachment itself.
“Overall, our costs are not going down,” said West.
Transportation services (Ice and snow removal/sanding)
For 2019, the city is increasing the sand and snow removal budget by $154,000 to $1.026 million. Van de Cappelle noted the final snow clearing budget for 2018 amounted to $1.136 million. Of that, $245,000 transferred from reserve, used to supplement the budget.
Council supported a request to include $31,000 in the rec centre budget to hire a third full-time lifeguard so that public swim hours might be increased. Council made sure to keep a $14,000 pool toy in the budget, a replacement for a toy that is used to help get people using the pool in low- demand times.
This budget includes one-time maintenance costs of approximately $34,000 related to WCB requirements – upgrades spurred by the fatal ammonia leak at a Fernie arena.
“Everybody is aware that the Fernie incident did have a big impact on facilities. We spent probably $50,000 in 2018 to address those issues as well,” commented Shuswap Recreation Society manager Dale Berger.
Berger also noted a renewal of the naming rights agreement negotiated with Shaw Cable Systems Ltd. will result in approximately $500,000 in capital improvements for the Shaw Centre not on the shoulders of taxpayers.
Van de Cappelle noted the debenture debt for the Shaw Centre matures in 2019, resulting in a one-time savings of $73,000.
This budget includes $90,000 set aside for the replacement of the playground equipment in Klahani Park. Council had considered putting this work on hold but was informed the current playground equipment, a wooden structure, has been identified as an insurance risk and does not meet national standards, making this park a high priority for staff. Funding is also in the budget for a picnic shelter in Blackburn Park, expected to be constructed this spring.