They trimmed and they pared and they whittled.
In the end, Salmon Arm council’s refining of the city’s 2016 budget will see taxpayers facing a 2.96 per cent tax increase.
For a resident with what the city terms an average $288,000 home, that amounts to an approximate $40 increase over 2015. However, households will also see an $11.30 reduction in the solid waste and recycling levy, so, in total, the homeowner will be paying about $29 more on next year’s tax bill.
Added to that, in a separate bill in December, will be a 2.6 per cent or $7.20 rise in the sewer rate.
For a commercial property assessed at $500,000, the tax increase next year would be about $172. The sewer rate increase would vary, said Monica Dalziel, the city’s chief financial officer. The Mall at Piccadilly would pay $27 more, for example, while the Jade Palace would see a $5.60 increase.
To coin a favourite Sesame Street phrase used regularly by some councillors, the $45 million budget was ‘brought to council by the letter’ T, with the budget described as ‘tight’ many times throughout the day.
Dalziel explained the budget took a couple of “big hits” from the get go. New growth tax revenue for the 2015 budget wasn’t as much as predicted – 1.24 per cent rather than two. As well, some businesses successfully appealed their assessment through the BC Assessment Authority, including Canoe Forest Products Ltd. and Park Place Seniors Living Inc., resulting in an accumulated $100,000 decrease in municipal tax revenue.
Prior to council receiving the budget, city staff worked on it for months, efforts that received many kudos from mayor and council. The staff budget included a 3.85 per cent tax increase, which council reduced, via 19 proposed changes, by 0.89 per cent. A one per cent tax increase in the budget equals about $156,000.
The whole process took eight hours Monday, part of which saw the council gallery well-populated, mostly with city department heads, the fire chief, the police staff-sergeant and community organizations.
One issue that Dalziel listed as significant was the transportation budget. She reminded council to be cognizant that the federal/provincial gas tax funding, upon which the city has relied heavily for transportation projects instead of general revenue, “isn’t always going to be there.”
One of the stipulations of the gas tax funding is that internal municipal employees can’t do the projects; it must be contracted out. That has implications for ongoing staffing levels, she added.
Snow and ice removal costs continue to increase for the city. The 2016 snow budget is $837,000. In 2015, $814,000 was budgeted.
Wrote Dalziel: “Despite the city’s practice and strong resolve to have reserves/contingencies in place for these types of unpredictable expenditures, the city just hasn’t been able to keep up.”
The snow removal reserve now has $56,000 in it, which she stated will likely be used by the end of this year.
Although the city tried providing seven-day per week staffing for snow plowing in 2015, it will go back to a six-day shift with standby on Sundays.
Coun. Kevin Flynn expressed his surprise at the costs. He also agreed it’s hard to satisfy everyone.
“I think staff do a great job and whatever we do, people aren’t happy – or some people.”
He asked if Salmon Arm provides more than other cities. Rob Niewenhuizen, director of engineering and public works, said the city clears sidewalks.
“Most communities have a good-neighbour bylaw,” Niewenhuizen said, where people do it themselves. The city also has 250 kilometres of roads to clear, more than many communities.
Regarding reserves, Dalziel said overall they’re in good shape. Although she cautioned council to continue to put funds in reserves – which it opted not to in a couple of instances where no near-term effects would be felt – on the positive side she pointed out the city has never had to borrow to pay for such things as fire or public works vehicles.
Reserve funds for specific purposes are going up $200,000 in 2016 from $12.7 million to $12.9 million, while more general reserve accounts are going down from $16.4 to $16.3 million.
In the parks and rec departments, washrooms are planned for McGuire Lake Park, just off 10th Street NE.
Canoe Beach will be getting a swim dock.
The Shaw Centre will get netting for the Spectator arena’s four corners to stop pucks, an upgrade to the sound system and new chairs in the restaurant.
Coun. Louise Wallace-Richmond noted a communications strategy, a short-term priority for the city, was not included in the budget, so $5,000 will be put towards it.
In 2016 another $20,000 will be going into a reserve for a flood hazard risk assessment. Coun. Alan Harrison suggested taking the funds out of a $335,000 debenture payment for city hall, a motion that passed. He said he will support it this year but, based on cost estimates, council will have to consider at some point whether or not to proceed with the study.
Coun. Kevin Flynn suggested using the Ross Street Underpass reserve contribution for one time instead of using the debenture money. He quickly withdrew his suggestion when Carl Bannister, the city’s chief administrative officer, made an impassioned plea to keep funding the underpass.
Bannister said saving the underpass funds “has been the cornerstone of everything we’ve done for the past couple of years…”