© Times-Herald photo by Lisa Goudy
The majority of council votes in favour of a two per cent tax increase with one per cent going to cast iron water main replacements on an ongoing basis and the other one per cent going to roadways and sidewalks, divided 75 per cent and 25 per cent respectively at the Feb. 24, 2014 meeting.
After more than an hour of debate, the 2014-2018 capital budget was passed on Monday night.
Discussions included the revote on the proposed two per cent tax increase with one per cent going to cast iron water main replacements on an ongoing basis and the other one per cent going to roadways and sidewalks, divided 75 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.
“It certainly is an underfunded area. My problem with this motion is that one per cent increase, which would be about $220,000, is a drop in the bucket for what’s required, probably about a tenth of what is required,” said Coun. Brian Swanson. “What we have underneath the streets is a very serious problem that has been on the radar now for a while, but in the capital plan it’s not reflected to the magnitude it needs to be.”
The situation will only get worse as time passes and there were “no real reductions at city hall this year,” he added.
“This year I think provided an excellent opportunity to get some money out of our operating budget into our capital budget and then match that with a tax increase,” said Swanson. “(It’s) painful, but nowhere near as painful as what the alternatives will turn out to be.”
But Coun. Don Mitchell said while he agrees the amount provided in his motion isn’t enough, efficiencies have been identified within the operating budget.
He said the operating budget process was “pretty thorough and legitimate” and there weren’t plenty of proposals for “cuts and services coming forward within those discussions.”
Mitchell said perhaps a two per cent tax increase for infrastructure in the capital budget isn’t the correct number.
“Obviously a compromise, but to suggest it’s better to do nothing than take on the whole project and the needs that are clearly out there, I don’t agree with,” he said. “It’s a substantial increase over what we’ve been doing. Clearly, time is ticking. We have to move on these capital upgrades. This is a step forward.”
Coun. Dawn Luhning agreed with Swanson and said the city needs to examine its expenses closer before asking for more money from the taxpayers.
“We truly do need a large jump in trying to tackle the infrastructure issues that we have and I still don’t see it,” she said.
Mayor Deb Higgins said the master utilities plan that is in the works is necessary. The utilities plan was approved last year. She said it isn’t logical to be going back and forth to different parts of the city to do the required work.
“This year has been a year to focus back on the basic services that the city has a responsibility to provide to our community and that’s exactly what’s been done with this budget,” said Higgins.
The motion was passed in a vote of 5-2, with Swanson and Luhning opposed.
While the majority of motions voted on again had the same result as they did in budget committee, Coun. Patrick Boyle moved a different motion regarding the flood prone property acquisition program as he wasn’t present for that budget committee meeting.
In budget, the committee approved keeping a status quo on the program with a 2014 contribution of $50,000.
However, at Monday’s meeting, Boyle’s motion to provide $0 for the program and to discontinue the program was passed in a vote of 4-3 with Mitchell, Higgins and Swanson opposed. The remaining balance will be used to purchase 131 North Grant Street and demolish 150 North Grant Street.
“This program I think it served its purpose when it came in,” said Boyle. “Policies now have come a long way on flood prone areas and I don’t believe that it is sound public policy for a municipality to be compensating homeowners for living along the river … I believe that mitigation is the key to a lot of these things and that is a provincial responsibility.”
Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.