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Salmon Arm council divided on whether to cut more expenses in 2020 budget

City councillor: ‘I have never in all my years on council been one to vote against a budget’
(File ph0t0)

Lowering the amount city taxpayers must pay in 2020 in the face of COVID-19 was a move city council could agree on, but not the level of expenses in the budget.

On April 6, council announced there would be no tax increase in 2020 for all classes of property.

That was a reduction of 2.51 per cent, the increase that council had decided was necessary in October 2019 to fund the 2020 budget.

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On April 14, when going through the official approval process, Coun. Kevin Flynn said he thought council could do more to cut projects in 2020.

“I have never in all my years on council been one to vote against a budget. We spend a lot of time discussing our budgets. We spend a lot of time with staff creating budgets, prioritizing projects. I am supporting (the) zero per cent (tax increase), I’m supporting the delay (in the tax deadline), I’m supporting how the taxes have been calculated by category, but I cannot vote in support of this budget. In my mind, we have not done nearly enough on the expense side of the equation and to look at projects that should be cut.”

Flynn pointed out that when the independent auditor from BDO Canada reported on the city’s 2019 audited financial statements, they said COVID-19 would likely have a significant impact on the city but it’s difficult to ascertain yet what that impact will be.

He also said the city is estimating a two-per cent rate of new growth but, in light of COVID-19, that might be too high.

Other councillors said although they had concerns similar to Flynn’s, they believe measures are in place to adjust to changes. Coun. Tim Lavery said the city has a rigorous internal scrutiny process and down the line there could be cuts in staffing or projects.

Read more: Salmon Arm taxpayers face a 2.51 per cent tax increase in 2020 budget

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Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond said the city has an important impact on the community in terms of employees and contractors.

“I think it’s important we project optimism and caution and proceed as normally as possible under the circumstances. If it does have to change, council will be responsive and staff is up to the task.”

Coun. Chad Eliason pointed out that in about five months, the city will be looking at the 2021 budget.

“I think in the short term we’re doing a very good job to control costs and keep the economy moving.”

Mayor Alan Harrison will be providing a mayor’s message to go with the property tax bills.

It will include mention of the ‘zero per cent’ tax increase and the due date for taxes being pushed back to Sept. 30. It will encourage those who can, to pay their taxes on the usual July 2 due date. His message will also acknowledge the provincial government for reducing business and industrial taxes by 25 per cent.

Council also discussed the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, which passed a seven per cent tax increase in its budget, compared to the city’s ‘zero per cent.’ City reps on the CSRD board said a lot of the costs were fixed, such as waste management and building costs.

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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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