City council ‘comfortable’ with 2.5% tax increase

Kristen Douglas

Campbell River Mirror

 

‘Comfortable’ seemed to be the common theme around the table on Wednesday afternoon as council wrapped up a 10-year financial plan that includes several critical infrastructure improvements and a 2017 tax increase.

Both Mayor Andy Adams and Coun. Michele Babchuk said they were “comfortable” with landing on a 2.5 per cent residential tax increase for 2017 following three days of budget planning by city council.

That figure falls within the budget parameters of a 2.5 to three per cent tax increase that city staff had built in to the 10-year, 2017-2026 financial plan.

The hike equates to a $36 tax increase for the average assessed Campbell River home.

“I think we’ve done a really great job of being able to get our priorities in there, have some great capital projects come forward and not be too much of a burden on the taxpayers,” Coun. Babchuk said.

Included in the 2.5 per cent increase is a 0.75 per cent tax allotment that will be set aside in reserve accounts and go directly towards the city’s capital plan which includes several infrastructure improvement projects.

Coun. Colleen Evans said as the city’s assets age, it’s vital that council has a long-term plan for staying on top of necessary improvements which communities across the nation are facing.

“I think the challenge always is during budget time that infrastructure needs far exceed our current funding models and we have to be aware of that fact and that’s why this 10-year plan was put in place,” Evans said. “Infrastructure continues to be a major crisis in municipalities across B.C. Just a cautionary note that we need to recognize that and it’s not going to go away. These funding models and these reserves are put in place for addressing what is an inevitable issue that is coming forward to this council and councils in the future and that’s how do we address significant infrastructure issues in our community.”

Coun. Charlie Cornfield, who made the motion to allocate the 0.75 per cent towards capital (which is the same amount as in 2016), said he agreed with Evans that it’s critical dollars are earmarked for such investments.

“I support 100 per cent having money set aside for infrastructure,” Cornfield said.

To that end, council approved a lengthy list of capital projects including $250,000 in 2017 and $2.97 million in 2019 to replace aging infrastructure along Shoppers Row between St. Ann’s and 11th Avenue. The upgrades will also deal with ongoing issues related to the London plane trees along Shoppers, electrical capacity and storm water flooding. The plan also includes $250,000 in 2020 and $2.21 million in 2021 for similar upgrades on Shoppers Row between 11th Avenue and 13th Avenue.

The capital plan also includes $300,000 in 2017 for sewer upgrades on Larwood-Erickson as well as $300,000 in 2017 to replace the existing waterfront sewer forcemain between Rockland Road and the Maritime Heritage Centre, which is undersized, in poor condition and frequently breaks, resulting in raw sewage on the beach and in the ocean.

The budget also contains $655,000 in 2017 for Big Rock Boat Ramp improvements as well as $408,000 for the Robron Fieldhouse which is a partnership with Campbell River Youth Soccer Association.

Mayor Adams said the budget is one that the community can be proud of.

“I’m really comfortable with what this budget is delivering as far as enhancements,” Adams said. “I think this budget is touching on a lot of community groups, a lot of departmental projects and financial stability.”

The budget contains a handful of items requested of council by community groups, including a sprinkler system for the Sybil Andrews Cottage, joint funding for a pocket park at the end of Spruce Street in Campbellton, as well as money for the fieldhouse, and funding for a staff position at the Seniors Centre to help with the lunch program.

City Manager Deborah Sargent said she believes it’s a budget that the community can be proud of.

“I think this has something for everyone in this community,” Sargent said. “I really believe you’ve got a budget that maintains a momentum out in the community in terms of investment, attraction – new people moving to our community, people deciding to retire here, raise their families here.

“I entered budget discussions saying I was ‘cautiously optimistic’ and I think hearing the results of the deliberations I am leaning more towards the optimistic side of things,” Sargent added. “I really believe we’re at the beginning of a really good growth curve and I think you’ve made some important decisions that will provide us with the horse power we need to move forward as a community.”

Budget highlights

  • $40,000 in 2017 for design improvements to the parking lot on Cypress Street (gravel lot near the firehall) including paving and drainage improvements.

  • $225,000 in 2017 for design work for a replacement for the downtown fire hall.

  • $40,000 in 2017 for new glass transit shelters.

  • $129,649 for Elk Falls Cemetery upgrade.

  • $40,000 in 2019 (plus $100,000 carried over from 2016) for a new city welcome sign and landscaping at Jubilee Parkway and Highway 19A.

  • $15,000 with Campbellton Neighbourhood Association matching funds for development of a pocket park at the end of Spruce Street with river access.

  • $13,000 for automated watering system at Sybil Andrews Cottage.

  • $70,000 for design and construction of water and sewer servicing for new lease lots at the airport to attract new tenants.
  • $195,000 for two new firefighter positions to improve response times, meet regulatory compliance, reduce overtime costs and reduce fleet operational costs.
  • $82,000 in 2018 for transit service expansion of 1,500 additional hours annually and two new buses.