Terrace’s mayor and new council began their preliminary budget discussions for 2019 a week before Christmas, one of many in public budget talks that will culminate this spring when the final tax rate is set.
The 2019 preliminary budget includes a 2.6 per cent property tax increase, with an estimated $100,000 in economic factors acting outside the market, or non-market change, mainly compromised of new money from construction. This increase would mean an additional two per cent tax for the next five years.
The budget also details a two per cent increase in the proposed operating budget from $19.7 million to $20.2 million, with 21 per cent going towards policing costs.
The capital project budget of $3.32 million for 2019 has money for new projects, including the second phase of the transload feasibility study in the spring, an $800,000 reconstruction of Soucie Avenue, completion of the Grand Trunk Pathway by Skeena Sawmills, and a drainage plan for future development on the Bench.
The $175,000 vestibule project on the Terrace Aquatic Centre will continue into 2019, with $20,000 budgeted for work on the steam sauna to repair it after someone had walked on the ceiling of the sauna and broke through during construction.
During the budget meeting, director of leisure services Carmen Didier announced the city had purchased land across from the Kitsumkalum cemetery along Frank Street, with plans to build either a trail or viewpoint there, similar to the one on top of Kalum Hill.
This and many more budget items, such as playground equipment replacement for Kin Park and new outhouses for Ferry Island, are listed, however being provisional, some items can get axed or others added before the final budget comes out.
“If non-market change increases, the necessity of the two per cent tax increase will be re-evaluated annually,” Greenlaw said during the Dec. 12 meeting.
Actual predicted revenue this year will stay at $22.31 million, with no decrease because there was no required funding for the Terrace & District Aquatic Centre renovation grant. The city did see a rise in tax penalties and interest in the last few years, with $50,000 incurred from businesses who paid late.
The amount of money the city will take in from property tax rose from $13.4 million in 2018 around $13.8 million in 2019. The city also saw a $50,000 increase in revenue generated from building permits in 2018, reaching close to $200,000.
The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and Thornhill’s cost-sharing agreement with the city has gone up slightly, from $1.3 million to $1.4 million mainly due to restoring pool budgets to normal levels.
Meanwhile, city spending is going down by approximately $4 million, from $27.6 million in 2018 to $23.5 million in 2019.
Following the budget meeting, at press time city representatives were not available for further comment on spending.
The city increased its budget for the usual 24 RCMP members from $4.21 million to $4.28 million because of an increased per member cost. There has been a $200,000 surplus from RCMP last year from a decrease in members, from a budgeted 24 to 22.5 in 2018, according to Greenlaw. This money will flow back to general surplus.
No additional RCMP members have been budgeted for at this point.
The $60,000 increase in the fire department’s budget is mainly due to the new fire truck and equipment costs, with no extra money for additional members despite calls from the firefighter’s union for more full-time staff.
There was also a $16,000 increase – 36 per cent – in transit pass sales in 2018 after a significant 12 per cent jump in BC Transit ridership.
The winter road maintenance budget was reduced by $17,000 to $596,400 in 2019, though the director of public works Rob Schibli says more funding will be allocated if needed. In 2018, the city allocated $200,000 in winter road maintenance costs after a period of heavy snowfall.
Coun. Brian Downie argued the winter maintenance budget should be a higher priority.
“Our sidewalk maintenance should be beefed up, we should be doing more for winter maintenance. Is there a way of actually verifying whether we have enough or whether we should be looking at an increase?”
Schibli says many of the complaints the department gets on sidewalks are not necessarily that they’re not cleared, but that they’re slippery.
“They’re much more difficult to get to a better condition than a road because you don’t have the benefit of traffic working the compact snow and the equipment is so much smaller and lighter that it’s not able to cut through the ice as effectively as the equipment we use on the roads,” he says, adding that the department will take a look at limiting factors.
There was a $152,000 increase for wages at the Terrace & District Aquatic Centre so it can be open 90 hours a week through extended weekend hours.
“That’s what we anticipate we’re going to require,” says Didier. “Once we get all of our lifeguarding staff we’re hoping to be open Monday to Friday from 6:30 p.m. to nine at night, and Saturday and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.”
The pool’s utility budget also rose by $35,000 because of the bigger facility, fitness room, higher water levels across all three pools and new UV filtration system.
Other new spending items would see the R.E.M. Lee Theatre allocated an annual $12,000 a year for community events, $118,973 allocated from the city and regional district to the Heritage Park Museum for operational, archiving and capital funding, historic documents, and a three per cent increase in the Terrace Public Library’s budget. Emergency Services also received a $3,000 increase to $18,000 per year.
This is the new council’s first crack at the city’s provisional budget, and there are still funding opportunities to work through.
At one point during the meeting when council agreed to give the R.E.M. Lee Theatre an annual operating budget, Coun. Lynne Christiansen and Coun. James Cordeiro brought up other organizations that would benefit from additional funding as well.
“One that’s on my mind lately is the senior centre, the Happy Gang,” Christiansen says, adding that other communities like Prince Rupert work the costs of operating the senior centre into their municipal budget.
“I’ve been concerned about it lately because it started out as a place where a senior could get a least one meal a day…and now they’re upping their price and it’s not quite as cost-effective. That’s just one thing that comes to mind… maybe we should be looking at other areas too.”