The tax man cometh…again

Taxpayers can likely expect another property tax increase for next year as city council prepares to form the 2017 city budget starting Monday.

City staff, in preparing the budget for council’s consideration and approval, have built in a tax increase of up to three per cent to maintain base services, provide ongoing capital investment and invest in new and enhanced services.

Myriah Foort, the city’s finance manager, wrote in a budget overview report that the 10-year financial plan to be presented to council projects an expected tax increase of 2.5 to three per cent for 2017. One per cent of that proposed tax increase would go directly towards the city’s capital plan to help replace and renew aging city infrastructure such as storm, sewer and water mains.

“The city is focused on incrementally increasing this capital funding to ensure ongoing investment in the city’s core assets to ensure ongoing service delivery,” Foort said. “This incremental tax increase for capital is becoming a popular method for local governments to fund capital investment, as it avoids the requirement to fund capital solely through external borrowing.”

The 2017 budget that has been built by city staff contains a mix of new capital infrastructure, operational and maintenance projects.

Those projects include the new drinking water system which saw phase one completed in 2016, with the final phase – the water treatment facility – to be built in 2017, as well as other infrastructure projects such as sewer and storm drains, roads infrastructure, new fuel delivery and a new pay parking machine at the airport.

The budget also provides for an update to the city’s Sustainable Official Community Plan, a Downtown Refresh development plan aimed at revitalizing the downtown core, establishing a municipal broadband fibre network to provide affordable Internet access downtown for local businesses, the transitioning of bringing the city’s economic development function into City Hall and developing a new five-year tourism plan.

It also takes into account council’s strategic priorities, including Shoppers Row upgrades, Big Rock Boat Ramp improvements and construction of the new Robron Fieldhouse.

City Manager Deborah Sargent said all of those projects provide the foundation for next year’s budget, which she described as “cautiously optimistic” and fiscally responsible.

“The proposed budget provides an ambitious operational and capital plan that we believe is both desirable and achievable,” Sargent said. “We have a balance of optimism in the new initiatives and capital projects and a careful approach in maintaining the community’s basic infrastructure, planning for future climate change and sea level rise, and making sure that the interests of our residents, businesses and stakeholders are addressed.”

It is city council, however, that will have the final say on what remains in the 2017 budget and those decisions will be made next week.

The budget meetings are set for Monday, Dec. 5 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (five minutes will be set aside at the beginning of that meeting for presentations from the public), Tuesday, Dec. 6 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Wednesday, Dec. 7 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., with time set aside from 1:30 to 3 p.m. if needed.