The City of Terrace has reduced a proposed property tax increase to 4.5 per cent, down from 7.4 per cent, in what the city is calling a response to the COVID-19 pandemic which has closed businesses, reduced opening hours of others and put people at home without a regular paycheque.
The decision to reduce spending came at a special city council meeting April 23 attended in person by mayor Carol Leclerc and senior staffers and with council members participating via a conference call.
Although a series of cuts was made from a provisional budget, attributed to a decline already in revenues, City finance director Lori Greenlaw noted that the resulting reduction means a tax increase next year will be higher than first forecast.
“In order to maintain service levels, and allow our facilities to run at full capacity, all of the budget reductions we have made in 2020, have been added back in to the 2021 budget,” she said at the meeting.
Originally, taxes were set to increase 7.4 per cent in 2020, and a 3 per cent increase was planned for 2021. Now, the tax will increase 4.5 per cent in 2020 and is set to increase to 5.5 per cent in 2021.
One budget item did result in debate — the proposed hiring of another RCMP officer, something which is now not possible because the police force is unable to provide an officer.
That would have allowed the City to cut expenses by $120,000, which would have brought the proposed tax increase down to just 4 per cent.
But councillor James Cordeiro suggested that a portion of those funds instead be spent on hiring two part-time bylaw officers to patrol downtown this summer, saying the downtown core is facing issues involving assaults and discarded needles. Those bylaw positions were in the provisional budget but had been axed as a cost saving.
“When the downtown and things do start to open back up again, is this not an opportunity for us having that increased presence in the downtown to get a fresh start?” Cordeiro asked.
Councillors Evan Ramsay and Lynne Christiansen both supported Cordeiro’s proposal, but councillors Sean Bujtas, Jessica McCallum-Miller, and Brian Downie did not support the idea.
“Under the extreme circumstances, I think it’s acceptable to reduce the service we planned to offer this year,” Bujtas said at the meeting.
Ultimately the tie was broken by Leclerc, who said she was in favour of hiring the bylaw officers thus setting the stage for the 4.5 per cent tax hike.
Council will officially adopt the final budget in a meeting May 11.