City budget already facing tax increase

Days before budget meetings are to get underway, city council is already facing a recommended 1.4 per cent tax increase next year in order to sustain general operations.

That’s prior to the addition of any service level changes that council may or may not wish to make during 2016 budget planning which takes place next week.

Starting Monday, council will hammer out a financial plan for the city’s $63.4 million operating budget – a slight increase over 2015’s $63.3 million budget – which includes general, airport, water and sewer funds.

Myriah Foort, the city’s finance manager, said it’s been the goal of staff to deliver a budget to council that minimizes taxation impacts.

“The focus for 2016 financial planning has been to stabilize the annual tax rate increase for current and future years, while providing ongoing funding to maintain base service levels, allowing for moderate increases in service levels and also to provide funding for ongoing maintenance and investment in capital infrastructure,” Foort said. “As such, the budget parameters include a conservative annual allocation for each component of the city’s budget and replaces the large swings in tax increases with consistent and predictable values.”

This past year, Campbell River residents saw a 1.69 per cent in their property taxes while in 2014 taxes rose by 2.92 per cent and in 2013, by 3.91 per cent.

This year also saw tax increases to the Utilities 2 and the Managed Forest class. Combined, those increases generated an additional $95,000 in revenue for the city. Foort said in 2016, a one per cent residential tax increase would increase revenues by approximately $250,000.

She added that council gave direction to staff to be fiscally conservative when building its budgets, with no new or altered services to be included unless the increases were confined to: wage and benefit, contractual, utility, changes imposed on the city through legislation, or special obligations such as collective bargaining agreements and the municipal election which occurs every four years. Foort said the focus going into this year’s budget planning is to move “to long-term strategic planning from a short-term year by year focus.”

To that end, staff have developed a financial plan that Foort said “provides stability for the city’s citizens while providing adequate funding for all levels of city services.”

That includes funding for: inflationary costs in the city’s base budget (items such as staff, fire and RCMP, which the city is required to pay for), moderate increases to service levels, one-time projects, and the city’s capital program (water and sewer).

Council will form its 2016 budget starting Monday, Dec. 7 with a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. session to work on the city’s base budget.

On Tuesday, Dec. 8 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. council will discuss its capital budget and on Wednesday, Dec. 9 from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. council is expected to consider any service level changes. An afternoon session that same day, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. is optional, as is an additional session on Thursday, Dec. 10 that if needed, will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

All meetings will take place at City Hall and the public is welcome to sign up in advance to make a presentation to council at the start of the Monday and Tuesday meetings.