The city is aiming to leverage tax money from new construction to put forward a zero per cent tax hike for the second year in a row despite overall assessment values in the city dropping.
After their first budget meeting held a week before Christmas, mayor Carol Leclerc says that the city’s finances looked like they could allow for another zero increase year.
“At that time, it didn’t look like we needed to raise taxes and we are hoping that we don’t have to. But it’s only our first meeting,” she said.
The zero tax increase is contained within city deliberations after approving a provisional budget as it works toward a final document this spring.
Leclerc points to aspects of the city budget where costs are rising laid against the challenge of keeping taxes down.
One new spending item would see an additional RCMP officer assigned to the detachment as part of the city-financed complement.
“We want to bump up the RCMP a little bit because we should be at 25 but we have been at 24 [members] just to bring us up to where we need to be. We have always shaved that off when we’ve been tight on dollars,” said Leclerc.
This additional RCMP officer would join the force halfway through this year.
Budget information provided by the city indicates it pays 70 per cent of the actual cost of an average RCMP officer’s salary and related expenses which works out to $118,000 for a full year.
Like last year, those whose properties experienced an average rise in assessed value will not see any increase in tax, but those whose houses came in over the assessed average or under will see a rise or fall in the amount of property tax they must pay.
The city’s provisional budget has money for new projects including a redesigned city website, a new sanitization system in the whirlpool at the aquatic centre and conducting a feasibility study leading to an anti-train whistling bylaw at the Frank St. rail crossing.
This and many more budget items, such as putting in a new carpet at the public gallery, are listed, however being provisional, some items can get axed or others added before the final budget comes out in the spring.
The city won’t know what the final tax rate is until that time either, when the final assessment numbers are released by BC Assessment pending all adjustments.
The actual predicted revenue shows a modest increase from last year with $21,110,206 for 2016 compared to $20,770,372 last year, though some of that comes from reserves.
The amount of money the city will take in from property tax is dropping slightly with $12,060,000 in 2016, down from $12,120,730 last year, however it is still up from previous years.
Leclerc says the tax rate freeze is possible because again last year the city saw more houses built, the second big building year in a row.
“You get more money because you’ve got more houses,” said Leclerc of how the city gains from new construction.
Meanwhile, the amount the city plans on spending, its total expenditures, is dropping slightly, going down by $1 million compared to last year—from $22,408,995 last year to $21,446,732 this year. The projected surplus has also dropped.
Money has also been included to study whether it would be advisable to ask CN to stop blasting its horn when passing the Frank St. crossing.
Now that there is a new crossing installed in 2014, the need for signaling an approach, which is loud, might not be needed. A bylaw could be put in place to ban such tooting of the horn, and thus lower the noise level for nearby residents and pedestrians.
“The issue of the sound of the train horns sounding at level crossings has been raised by residents and previous councils,” said city official Alisa Thompson. “Now that there are lights at the level crossing at Frank St. we want to investigate the feasibility of having an anti-whistling bylaw. This is regulated by Transport Canada and CN has to be involved in the process.”
To this end, the city has put aside $15,000 for such a study. Following this, an engineering study will also have to be done, if the bylaw is deemed feasible.
Other budget items include the resurfacing of the tennis courts on Halliwell Ave. and building a new trail behind the Kitsumgallum Pioneer Cemetery located at the top of Kalum Lake Drive/Hwy113.
“Money has been set aside to cut out a trail in this area. An old trail exists but it has eroded away and ends at the bottom of the hill,” said city recreation services official Carmen Didier.
“The new plan follows the old trail and then loops back up to Kalum Lake Road. Plans have not been determined on this project.
A new filtration system is also being installed in the whirlpool at the aquatic centre to reduce the amount of chlorine needed for disinfectant.
It will use ultraviolet rays and such systems are common in other pools and bathers notice water quality improvements, said Didier.