The City of Terrace is in the early stages of planning its 2021 budget, and it is encouraging the public to provide feedback.
Lori Greenlaw, director of finance, presented an initial draft budget for council discussion at a committee of the whole meeting on Dec. 1.
The draft budget calls for a 7 per cent increase to property taxes in 2021. Early this year, the city reduced a planned 7.4 per cent tax increase for 2020 down to 4.5 per cent in response to economic upheaval from the pandemic, but Greenlaw said at the time that would mean a larger tax increase for 2021.
The 2021 tax increase would cover additional city operating costs and services being added to the budget in 2021, such as an additional RCMP member and two new positions in the public works and engineering departments.
Council deliberated how to spend a $2.7 million COVID Safe Restart grant provided by the provincial government last month, as well as $13 million in its Northern Capital and Planning Grant reserve, monies which were provided in 2019 and this year.
The COVID Safe Restart grant is eligible to be used to cover revenue shortfalls, facility reopening and operating costs, emergency planning and protective services costs, computer and electronic technology costs, services for vulnerable people and other related costs.
The draft budget calls for the use of $775,750 of the COVID Safe Restart grant in 2021. That includes $300,000 to cover operating cost shortfalls, $90,000 for IT server hardware, $40,000 for new budget software, and $262,500 to cover closure of the landfill, plus a handful of small costs.
That leaves $1.9 million to be held in a reserve for use in the coming years.
Coun. Sean Bujtas said it makes sense to hold a portion of the money for future years because the financial impacts of the pandemic will continue even after a vaccine is successfully distributed. He gave the example of casino gaming tax revenue, which is typically a major revenue source for the city, saying casinos have been hit hard by pandemic closures and those revenue numbers likely won’t return to normal levels for some time.
Coun. Brian Downie said the city should draw on more of the COVID Safe Restart funds this year in order to reduce the proposed 7 per cent tax increase, but Greenlaw said that using a one-time grant to reduce a tax increase would mean that the tax increase would have to be implemented the following year if the city were to maintain all its services.
Coun. James Cordeiro said the city may have to look at cutting some services to reduce the tax burden. He said the city’s community partners, like the library and Heritage Park Museum, should look for further savings in their budgets, though he said those budgets are quite small in comparison to the city’s total budget.
More information about the budget, including a timeline of the city’s budget development process and a video recording of the initial budget council meeting from Dec. 1, can be found on the city’s website, where they have created a dedicated page for 2021 buget information. The page can be accessed at www.terrace.ca/budget2021
The city is inviting the public to participate in a web-based survey about the budget. The survey can be accessed at www.terrace.ca/budget2021-survey General feedback can also be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to 3215 Eby St., Terrace, BC V8G 2X8, Attention: Budget 2021. People submitting feedback should include their full name and address for the public record. The city is accepting feedback until the end of the day on Dec. 14.