City council delved into the city’s 2013 budget Monday, trying to find ways to whittle down a proposed 1.94 per cent tax increase. After a long day of deliberations they had some success, winding up with a 1.48 per cent increase for taxpayers.
Their work came after city department heads had gone through their individual departments’ finances, slicing and dicing where they could.
Monica Dalziel, the city’s chief financial officer, told council Monday morning the good news regarding the proposed budget was that it contained no increase to the water and sewer levies, or recycling and garbage collection, and the transportation parcel tax would remain the same.
She also said the budget contained an increase to building department revenues of $80,000, reflecting those associated with the anticipated SmartCentres development. She said associated tax revenues from the development would not accrue to the city until 2014.
Contacted following the deliberations, the comments of mayor and councillors who could be reached touched on similar themes.
Mayor Nancy Cooper noted the policing budget increased more than the city had expected. It jumped by $178,500 – $170,000 of which came from an RCMP ‘E’ Division directive, not from the local detachment.
“It has nothing to do with the guys here – it keeps going up. To me it’s the system we need to look at… It’s how do we change the system?”
She pointed to budget items she is pleased were included, such as the Fourth Street Revitalization Construction Project; recycling in the downtown which was encouraged in part by a 10-year-old girl; upgrading of the dog park at Canoe Beach; putting money in reserve for the recreation centre while applying for a grant, partnering with the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce for a pullout and signage for the industrial park; and partnering with the province and developers to improve the intersection of 50th Street and the Trans-Canada Highway at the entrance to Canoe.
Several councillors said they were pleased with commitments to the Shuswap District Arts Council/Shuswap Art Gallery Association – $35,000 for three years – and the Shuswap Trail Alliance – $40,000 for three years.
“It gives them sustained operational funding, guaranteed,” said Coun. Chad Eliason, pointing to ongoing provincial and federal government downloading, combined with cuts to gaming grants for organizations.
Harrison, too, was pleased with the allocations.
“I credit the arts council for operating efficiencies and for providing our community terrific value – $35,000 for all they provide is great for our community.”
He also noted the city’s commitment to trails is part of a regional plan with regional funding, and provides recreation opportunities not only to those who live here, but also generates tourism dollars.
Harrison said keeping the tax increase to 1.48 per cent in tight economic times is a major highlight for him, as was maintaining current funding for core servicing, police, fire, transportation, sewer and water.
“Despite some increases in costs beyond our control, we are able to continue to fund a full RCMP complement of 19 members, maintain the asphaltic overlay program, hold the line on water and sewer costs and recycling costs, and keep Sunwave and the rec. centre operating at full capacity.”
Smaller items he mentioned were important are new flag poles at Marine Park, monies for playground equipment in Canoe, and assistance to ensure the Canada Day Children’s Festival can proceed.
Eliason also noted signage for the industrial park, as well as a contribution to the volunteer firefighters for the conference they’re hosting that will bring 300 to 400 people to the city. He also pointed to the replacement of the fountain in McGuire Lake.
“That’s expensive – and I think people will be happy to see it back as it’s one of our signatures.”
Coun. Marg Kentel said the final taxation figure was the highlight for her.
“We raised it somewhat but it wasn’t more than inflation… Everybody’s being quite frugal. Staff and council are aware we’ve got a very slow economy here right now. People can’t afford to have a tax increase that would add to their financial distress.”
Coun. Ken Jamieson also saw the 1.48 per cent property tax rate increase, with no reduction in services, as a highlight.
He referred to the lengthy discussion on the western exit/entrance into Canoe, noting that “if funds can be accessed through our gas tax credit, it is our intention to help with reconfiguration and reconstruction of this intersection.”
Jamieson moved during the deliberations that funds be allocated for a flood risk assessment for the city. The motion was defeated in a 4-3 vote: Kentel, Eliason, Harrison and Cannon against; Reimer, Cooper and Jamieson for.
Coun. Debbie Cannon voiced her approval of the art gallery funding, the children’s festival support and funding for the ‘community blooms’ initiative.
Prior to deliberations, Dalziel said about $1.7 million is available in gas tax money, but it can be used only on certain projects.
“You’re really at bare bones what you’re doing with general revenue. I didn’t want to subsidize minor amounts with gas tax money – you will feel that in future years,” she cautioned.
Eliason asked about the city’s reserves, wondering if savings are adequate.
“I feel that actually the city adequately funds the reserves,” Dalziel said. “This council and prior councils are really receptive to saving up money and doing a project or program in future years. When one project is complete and no longer needs funds, they’re immediately put into another to start saving up.”
Eliason asked about a reserve for an underpass to the waterfront, and Dalziel said that by the end of the year, it would contain $645,000.
The budget will be voted on at a special council meeting on Thursday, Nov. 22.