A controversial 13.6 per cent tax hike, condemned by hundreds of taxpayers, was adopted by city council this week.
Missing from Tuesday’s council meeting were the hordes of spectators that filled council chambers at recent meetings. This time around, only about 10 people stuck around to see the budget adopted.
Just as in March’s finance committee meeting and last week’s three readings of the budget, the tax increase passed by the now-familiar 4-3 vote.
Council remained divided with councillors Ryan Mennie, Claire Moglove, Larry Samson and Mary Storry voting in favour of the city’s 2012 budget while Mayor Walter Jakeway and councillors Andy Adams and Ron Kerr remained opposed.
Moglove explained why she has stayed firm on her stance despite pleas from the public to re-consider the budget and find more savings.
“The reason why I support this year’s budget is that I believe further cuts would seriously damage the ability of the city to deliver quality services that have become mandatory in this day in age,” Moglove said. “I’m talking about parks, recreation and culture.”
But Richard Paquette, the lone taxpayer to speak to council Tuesday night, said he doesn’t see those services in his Park Road neighbourhood.
“If I would have seen some of that money in taxes I spend every year in my area, I’d be more in support,” Paquette said. “In the 21 years I’ve lived (in Campbellton), every sewer is blocked up, we have no sidewalks and we’ve only had three streetlights installed. I’m paying almost 2,400 bucks and in those 21 years, absolutely nothing has been changed in our area.”
Moglove challenged Mayor Jakeway’s assertion last month that increased property taxes will dissuade people from moving to Campbell River.
“I truly believe it’s the jobs, it’s the lifestyles, it’s the aesthetics – not the level of property taxes – that will bring people to Campbell River. Even if I’m wrong on that – and I do believe the mayor and I have a philosophical difference of opinion on this – even if I’m wrong and it’s the property taxes that drive people away from Campbell River, our tax burden…will still be amongst the lowest, not the highest.”
Moglove said she felt council did a good job of coming up with a balanced budget, considering what the city was facing just three months ago.
“When we started the process we were facing a $3.6 million shortfall which I believe is unprecedented per capita in the province,” she said.
The deficit was largely made up of taxation losses from Catalyst when its property was re-classified, as well as $1.1 million from reserve spending last year and inflationary wage costs.
Laura Ciarniello, the city’s general manager of corporate services, said 12 per cent of the 13.6 per cent tax increase was due to the Catalyst re-classification.
Moglove said she believes council is moving in the right direction, by shifting its reliance on Catalyst and making a commitment to stop using reserves to balance the budget by 2015.
Coun. Adams thought otherwise.
“While I agree we have addressed the major industrial revenue portion,” Adams said. “We haven’t addressed our expenditures of the revenue associated with that.”
Adams pointed out that council used $442,500 from the tax stabilization reserve, as well as $333,000 from the parks parcel tax, which will need to be put back into the budget next year.
In addition, council used two vacant staff positions expected to be filled next year, to help balance the budget.
Jakeway said although he was unable to stop the increase, he doesn’t want taxpayers to give up.
“To the public, everything I have said previously, during and following Financial Committee meetings still applies. When you get your taxes in early June, remember, just remember,” he said. “Please hold council and senior staff accountable.”
Jakeway also maintains that this year’s budget will be a disservice to Campbell Riverites, and it will set the city’s economic recovery back years.
Jakeway said next year, he hopes things will be done differently and he’d like city staff to present council with a balanced budget by Jan. 31.
Moglove agreed that council next year needs to look at the budget “much, much sooner” and that council needs to work together to keep taxation levels under control.
Coun. Kerr, who said he was disappointed by the budget, noted council will be able to move forward as a team once the finances are put aside.
“Taxes are difficult and stressful for councils and individuals,” Kerr said. “Council’s had some philosophical differences but I believe everyone here has the best interests of Campbell River at heart we’ll move forward providing the best leadership for the community in the future.”
The city has until May 15 to submit its budget to the provincial government.
Residents should expect to receive their tax notices in the first week of June and no later than June 10.
What’s in the 2012 budget
- Reduced council contingency fund by $100,000.
- Reduced council travel by $18,500.
- Eliminated bylaw enforcement officer ($68,718).
- Centennial Pool funded from gaming reserve ($136,135).
- Fifty per cent reduction in grass trimming and manual mowing ($14,000).
- Twenty-five per cent reduction in horticulture ($49,000).
- Increased business licence fees to $150,000.
- Decreased maintenance and repairs on city facilities by $90,000.
- Not participating in Communities in Bloom ($24,000).
- Deleted skate park hosts ($18,976).
- Added custodial at skate park due to deletion of hosts ($11,000).
- Added splash park operating expenses of $30,000.
- Added increased evening transit services ($38,805).
- Eliminated vacant admin assistant position ($35,467).
- Reduced parks parcel tax by $25.
- Zero per cent business tax increase.