Infrastructure needs loom over city budgeting effort

City council is on target to meet a projected 2.5 to three per cent 2017 residential tax increase following one full day of budget planning at City Hall.

That’s the range city staff has built into council’s 10-year financial plan in order to try and stabilize the tax rate and avoid large, one-time tax hikes.

City Manager Deborah Sargent said city staff built the financial plan over the past several months for council’s consideration.

“Ultimately this is council’s budget and the community’s budget,” Sargent said. “The budget looks at initiating and completing important community infrastructure projects.”

Mayor Andy Adams said that those projects – which make up the city’s capital plan – are key pieces of the budget, particularly the new drinking water system that will replace the current method of delivering water via the BC Hydro penstocks connected to the John Hart Generating Station.

“We have the largest capital project in our city’s history and that’s the new water system,” Adams said. “This is critically important to ensuring Campbell River has a dedicated, safe, clean water supply for the next 50 to 60 years. That is our number one focus for 2017 to make sure that project is moving along.”

The capital plan includes several other infrastructure projects over the next five years including Larwood-Erickson sewer upgrades and waterfront sewer forcemain in 2018, as well as below ground infrastructure improvements along the waterfront and Shoppers Row between the years 2019 and 2021.

In order to meet the capital plan targets, city staff is recommending council allocate one per cent of the tax increase it eventually settles on towards the capital plan in order to avoid long-term borrowing and large tax increases to repair aging infrastructure.

Council was expected to deliberate the capital plan Tuesday after the Mirror went to press.

On Monday, council set its $63 million base budget which includes base operating service levels, as well as contractual obligations and utility costs such as Hydro that the city has no control over.

The base budget includes a $100,000 increase for overtime hours for firefighters, as well as a $30,000 increase for auxiliary firefighter training. Both those areas had been underfunded over the past three years. The base also contains a $392,000 increase in the RCMP contract as well as an increase in wages and benefits for the mounties.

“The bottom line is, between the RCMP and fire services, this budget contains an increase in the neighbourhood of $620,000 for protective services (which shows) a continued commitment to police and fire to keep our community safe,” Adams said. “I think that’s a significant amount.”

The base budget also includes the re-allocation of funds to accommodate moving all smaller, non-apparatus vehicles from the fire department and the airport to the city’s Dogwood Operations Centre where the vehicles can be serviced by the city’s three mechanics who work out of the centre.

Dave Morris, the city’s general manager of facilities and supply management, said the move transfers the work from a contracted service to in-house.

By the end of Monday’s financial planning session, Coun. Charlie Cornfield said he was pleased to see council “hold the line” and stay within the budget parameters built in by city staff.

Council was expected to get into the meat of the budget Tuesday and today – the last scheduled day of budget planning – when it will discuss new service requests and set final taxation numbers.

 

Quick facts:

  • The city won the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada’s budget best practices award for its 2016 financial plan. The Distinguished Budget Presentation Award was a first for the City of Campbell River.

  • City taxes go towards a number of city services including: drinking water, garbage and recycling collection, streets, sidewalks and traffic control, transit and airport services, and parks and recreation programs.

  • The city contracts out services such as RCMP, transit and solid waste.

  • Property taxes are the single largest revenue source for the city and represent 47 per cent or $31.1 million of total revenues in 2017.

  • Residential bears the brunt of the tax burden, making up 73 per cent of city tax revenues while business accounts for 21 per cent.

Taxation comparisons:

  • Campbell River: $1,733 (municipal taxes); $843 (user fees).

  • Penticton: $1,718 (municipal taxes); $798 (user fees).

  • Vernon: $1,492 (municipal taxes); $1,196 (user fees).

  • Courtenay: $1,330 (municipal taxes); $790 (user fees).

  • Langley: $1,959 (municipal taxes); $922 (user fees).

  • Mission: $1,980 (municipal taxes); $1,167 (user fees).

  • Port Moody: $3,015 (municipal taxes): $1,037 (user fees).