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City sets the record straight on budget

The city is concerned Campbell River residents may be upset over incorrect budget information.

“It is a significant issue and we think there’s information that hasn’t gotten out,” said City Manager Andy Laidlaw.

Some of the biggest misconceptions floating around involve capital projects.

One of those is a cover for Spirit Square.

“Somehow people believe the cover is for the entire Spirit Square but it’s a cover for the stage so the musicians don’t get electrocuted in the rain,” Coun. Mary Storry said.

Laura Ciarniello, the city’s manager of corporate services, explained the money for the cover is not coming directly out of taxpayers’ pockets, but rather out of the $60,000 that’s left over from a grant the city received to build Spirit Square.

Laidlaw said city and council have also received a lot of backlash surrounding the Robron Park improvement project.

“There’s been talk of an all-weather track, but there are no plans for such a facility there,” Laidlaw said. “The long-term design does include an all-weather playing field. But council chose to withdraw the application for grant funding that would see development at that facility in 2012. Money ($250,000 from Parks Parcel Tax) remains in a reserve for future work at Robron Park, but there are no plans for 2012.”

Several Campbell Riverites are displeased city council voted to raise residential taxes by 13.6 per cent (7.1 per cent after reduced user fees are factored in), while continuing to spend money on projects.

Sean Smith, who ran for city councillor in November, told council during his delegation two weeks ago, that spending money during tight financial times looks bad.

“When I drive down Highway 19A and I see crews out there laying dirt along the side of the road, I have to ask ‘why’ when we’re running out of money,” Smith said. “We’re spending thousands and thousands of dollars to lay dirt. When the mayor suggests that we eliminate capital projects, to me, from the outside looking in, that makes sense.”

But Ciarniello said the capital projects are funded with money that’s been earmarked for those projects, typically with grant monies or from statutory reserves, some of which can only be used for projects relating to sewer or water improvements.

“It’s hard when you hear the citizens say ‘stop all the capital.’ The money’s already in the bank,” Ciarniello said. “In 2012 we’re not going to ask the citizens for capital funding because it’s already there.”

Laidlaw also explained why residents are feeling a heavier tax burden than in years prior.

“Since 2002, council has been shifting away from a reliance on major industry taxation – going from a point where major industry contributed approximately 25 per cent of the tax revenue to today’s less than one per cent contribution,” Laidlaw said. “And with the Catalyst site re-assessed, this is the final step in adjusting taxation rates away from the ‘mill town’ taxation reality.”

Laidlaw said although the tax increase has been hard for some to swallow, it is even more difficult elsewhere.

In 2011, ranking from lowest to highest, Campbell River placed 94th out of 161 communities for the amount of residential property tax charged. On Vancouver Island, five communities had lower rates while 11 had higher than Campbell River. City council is scheduled to give first three readings to the budget bylaw on April 24 – a week later than originally expected. Ciarniello said the extension is necessary in order for city staff to prepare a difficult budget in accordance with the province’s requirements.

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