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City council rejects cuts to recreation, maintenance

Proposals would have reduced property tax hike
Terrace city council won’t be cutting recreation or other services to help cushion tax increase. (File photo)

Terrace city councillors rejected the idea of cutting the operating hours of city amenities, such as the pool and sportsplex, during deliberations for the city’s 2024 operating budget.

The prospect was introduced by staffers during budget discussions last fall after city councillors asked for a list of potential savings in light of tax increases now set at at 8.83 per cent.

The list of potential savings included ending property tax exemptions for non-profit groups.

It also included cuts which could have saved between $271,000 to $423,000, enough to trim this year’s tax hike to between the 6.5 per cent and 7.34 per cent range.

Of the list considered by council, between $25,000 and $100,000 might have been cut by reducing parks and gardens maintenance including weed-whacking, litter pickup, cemetery maintenance, trail upkeep, watering and flower bed improvements.

In background information provided to council, the city’s parks, recreation and culture director Tara Irwin noted that litter pickup in the downtown kept the area looking presentable.

The pickup was also done by contract with a local non-profit agency who, in turn, hired people in more vulnerable economic and social circumstances, she added.

As for city services, as much as $87,000 could be cut by reducing sportsplex hours during the winter and anywhere between $23,000 and $100,000 could be cut by reducing the opening times and/or days per week at the aquatic centre.

Reducing overtime to clear sidewalks during the winter would save $10,000 and reducing overtime to plow roads during the winter would save another $86,000.

The city could further save $40,000 by cutting fluoride use in the water system although the matter would first have to go to a referendum.

“This is not an easy exercise as reductions to service levels will almost certainly have a negative impact on the public and may also cause negative disruptions to labour relations,” an explanatory memo from city finance director Lori Greenlaw stated.

What those proposed cuts would spell out for city workers or services to the public was not fully explored as council opted not to proceed.

During discussion on the potential cuts on Oct. 26, 2023, mayor Sean Bujtas called the list of proposed measures “a death by a thousand cuts.”

Even closing recreational or other facilities for a number of days or hours would not produce significant savings, he said.

No other council members spoke directly to the prospect of closing or reducing the hours of recreational or other facilities or otherwise reducing maintenance.

Bujtas was also adamant about keeping the scheduled and cumulative annual tax increase of 1 per cent, money which is to be spent on the city’s aging infrastructure.

“I have no intention in leaving our future generations so far behind,” he said of costs for road repairs and sewer and water pipe replacements.

The prospect of service cuts to ease tax hikes came in the context of what had been a preliminary budget calling for a tax hike of 7.65 per cent which then increased to 9.35 per cent.

Two factors drove the jump — the first being a .77 per cent increase or $142,500 now that the Skeena Industrial Development Park lands are once again owned by the city. That’s because municipally-owned property is not taxed.

The second increase came from council’s decision to add two more firefighters at $171,470 or a .93 per cent increase to provide better coverage.

Council members then generally agreed it was not feasible to find the money to pay for the firefighters within existing city budgets and that instead the money would have to come from a tax increase.

Council then cut its travel budget by approximately $7,000 or .04 per cent, a move that reduced the proposed hike to 9.31 per cent.

There was one bit of final good news for taxpayers in that new construction would bring in $200,000 in property taxes, double a first estimate of $100,000. It meant reducing the tax hike now under consideration from 9.31 per cent to 8.83 per cent.

About the Author: Rod Link

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