Operating budget will see 1.64 per cent tax hike

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Lisa Goudy
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Council approval still pending

Budget committee has finalized an operating budget that will see taxes go up 1.64 per cent.

Budget committee discusses the finalizing motion for the 2014 operating budget at Monday's meeting at city hall.

At Monday’s budget committee meeting, the majority voted in favour of the operating budget as amended, resulting in a 1.64 per cent mill rate increase to generate an extra $353,065.

Council will need to give final approval on the operating budget at the next regular council meeting.

Some of the changes to the operating budget as decided in the two-day budget sessions in mid-December include: an additional $100,000 for the streets and roads sealing and capping budget; an increase of $7,500 for streets and roads education and training budget; and a $20,000-increase for the tree pruning budget.

However, prior to the approval of the budget, there was an almost 20 minute discussion regarding infrastructure.

“There is never a better opportunity to … start redirecting some spending from our operating budget, which has grown significantly in the last five or six years, triple, quadruple, quintuple the rate of inflation,” said Coun. Brian Swanson.

“I’m in favour of reducing our spending, making some cuts, maintaining that budgetary level and then matching it with an increased tax increase. I think that is a course of action that will be of long-term benefit to the city for short-term pain.”

He said he would support a policy where the city would have a one per cent tax increase for every one per cent reduction in operating costs.

“It would be difficult. There would be things done that people would not like, but that would be way less painful and damaging to the city than pursuing this course of status quo,” said Swanson.

“There are tremendous implications for the city to not be dealing with our infrastructure deficit in a much larger way and it cannot all come from new revenues.”

In response to Swanson’s points, city manager Matt Noble said some of the infrastructure should have been dealt with during the last 40 years, but it wasn’t. Some infrastructure in the ground has been in use for double the length of time expected when it was installed.

“The only way the problem will ever be solved is to start doing something about it, but you’re not going to do that with less resources,” said Noble.

“People have to pay the cost and they have to be advised of that cost in a timely fashion … This is the type of problem that will require the engagement of everybody — this government, other levels of government and, of course, the citizens who stand to gain as well as stand to lose the most.”

I’m in favour of reducing our spending, making some cuts, maintaining that budgetary level and then matching it with an increased tax increase. Coun. Brian Swanson

Coun. Don Mitchell said he agreed with half of Swanson’s points, but he believed the issues needed to be addressed with additional funding in the capital budget.

“These other items of infrastructure we’ll be addressing in the capital budget and I don’t think that’s going to be solved or effectively even reduced in terms of the scale of it by trying to make further reductions in the operating budget,” he said.

“I think what we need to do, and I think there’s support for it in the community, is target the revenue increase from the tax base to the capital infrastructure priorities.”

But Coun. Heather Eby said she wasn’t in favour of waiting to approve the operating budget until after the capital budget is dealt with.

“I don’t disagree that the infrastructure needs to be looked at, but anybody who’s looked at the capital budget knows how much work is being carried forward already from previous years that hasn’t been done,” she said. “That work needs to get done before we start putting out new work.

“I’d rather see 2014 used to catch up, hopefully, on all those projects that have been on the books but haven’t happened yet and get that going and then get to the next planned attack on the infrastructure problem.”

Mayor Deb Higgins agreed with Eby’s position. She said how resources are managed and applied is important.

“I don’t believe that we have lots of room to be moving from our operating into capital and especially when you see the capital carry-over,” she said. “We need to be better at getting the work accomplished that we’re designating the money for.”

Prior to the vote on finalizing the operating budget, Swanson left the meeting for an appointment. The budget was passed, but not unanimously.

You can follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.

 

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