After a day-and-a-half of deliberations, Salmon Arm council agreed on the city’s $36 million budget for 2023.
With highlights such as funding for active transportation, a fourth full-time firefighter and a second IT technician, the budget sees a 3.83 per cent tax increase.
After deliberations wrapped up on Jan. 11, Mayor Alan Harrison characterized the budget as one which essentially maintains core services.
Regarding the firefighter hiring, he said it’s amazing a city the size of Salmon Arm can operate with only four full-time paid firefighters and the rest paid on-call.
“We are so lucky. The Shirley family – that’s why it’s there and it is a legacy. It saves us hundreds of thousands of dollars, there’s no doubt about it.”
As for the IT technician, he said the city now operates with just one, so a second person is needed to keep up with the many technology changes in the city’s operations.
Harrison noted active transportation has been a focus for council, based on the strategic plan that was built around it. Council put about $350,000 into a reserve for active transportation because the community supports it, he said.
(Active transportation has been described as ‘getting people out of their vehicles’ – any form of human-powered transportation, which includes cycling, walking, jogging, skateboarding and using mobility devices such as strollers and walkers.)
The 3.83 per cent tax increase, combined with jumps in the water user and sewer user fees, would cost the owner of what’s called an average $571,150 home in Salmon Arm, an increase of about $100, Harrison said.
He said that includes the water user fee that is increasing by about $15, while the sewer user fee will jump $23.
The water user fee increase is crucial because the city needs to replace Pump Station 5 at Five Corners, but even more important is replacing Pump Station 2, Harrison said.
“When water comes out of the water treatment plant at Canoe, Pump 2 pumps water uphill to South Broadview, North Broadview, Bastion and Hillcrest. That pump is old and we need to replace it.”
The sewer user fee increase will help pay for the needed expansion of the city’s sewage treatment plant, which is nearing capacity.
The good news in the waste disposal realm is that the curbside recycling fee remains the same, costing a user $1.97 a week for the trio of biweekly garbage, biweekly recycling and weekly composting.
Near the end of budget discussions when the increase was at its current state of 3.83 per cent, Coun. Kevin Flynn suggested the city include an additional $180,000 which would cover half the cost of a tandem dump truck. The truck was on the top of the list of items that Rob Niewenhuizen, director of engineering and public works, cut from his department’s needs. Niewenhuizen said the tandem dump is one of the most versatile units the city has – the city owns only one – but crews must take the tanks of magnesium chloride ice-melt out in order to put sand in.
Flynn, who usually aims for the lowest tax increase possible, said it was ironic he was requesting an additional tax increase, but explained the truck can’t be ordered until the funds are designated and, once ordered, shipment will take one-and-a-half to two years. (The cost of half the truck was already in the budget to go into a reserve fund) He said the needs of more roads at the west end of town make it essential. The funds requested would mean a 4.78 per cent tax increase instead of 3.83.
Mayor Alan Harrison said staff has a two-year plan to buy the truck. He said council and staff have done an excellent job of going through every detail of the budget to arrive at the 3.83 tax increase, which is below the cost of living index. He emphasized that many members of the public, particularly those on the margins, are already having a difficult time making ends meet and council needs to keep the increase as low as possible.
Much discussion followed and a decision to not contribute more money to the truck was decided in a tight 4-3 vote. Voting against contributing more money for the truck were Harrison and Couns. Tim Lavery, Sylvia Lindgren and Louise Wallace Richmond.
At the end of the budget process, mayor and councillors all expressed their enthusiastic appreciation for city staff’s excellent job of preparing the budget and being able to answer myriad questions about it.
Flynn said he thought council went a bit low with funding given inflation is about seven per cent, but he also agreed the needs of people who cannot afford a tax increase must be considered.
Wallace Richmond said she appreciated the budget document more than ever this time as it helped her make decisions she feels good about. She said she doesn’t think the tax increase is too high or too low, but “just right.”
New Coun. David Gonella said the preparation done beforehand was excellent and the process met or exceeded his expectations. He also commended council.
“From my very short amount of time here, it appears council is working functionally and working on behalf of the community, and staff has the community in mind as well. They continue to provide the best service we can for the money we ask from our citizens to support it.”
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