City taxpayers hit with tax increase to pay for Strathcona Regional District wellness centre

Tax: City directors ‘shocked’

Campbell River taxpayers will likely be on the hook for a new wellness centre at Strathcona Gardens for the next several years.

The 2016 budget for the Strathcona Regional District, which operates Strathcona Gardens, contains a five-year plan to raise $7 million for a wellness centre with a therapy pool, fitness and exercise room.

That means Campbell River taxpayers would be taxed $90.94 each year for the next five years.

That didn’t sit well with Campbell River directors on the regional district board.

Director Charlie Cornfield said it was just too much to put onto taxpayers.

“To say I was shocked at the increase to Campbell River is an understatement,” Cornfield said.

Area D also pays a chunk into Strathcona Gardens (both Campbell River and Area D residents are taxed $0.86 per $100,000 of assessed property value).

“Myself and a good number of the constituents I represent look at the bottom line on their tax bill, they don’t care whether it’s city, regional district, hospital, or school, it’s the bottom line and this is getting up there,” Cornfield said noting the regional solid waste function will be upping taxes, as has the city.

Directors Michele Babchuk and Andy Adams suggested the regional district spread the increase over seven years to lower the number.

“I do think it needs to go over a longer time frame as opposed to the five year,” Babchuk said. “At this point I don’t think the extra $90 from the Campbell River side is palatable.”

Cornfield, though, said he couldn’t agree with taxing residents just to put money aside for something that may not pan out.

“I liken it to we’re taxing people now for something we may or may not use,” Cornfield said.

The Strathcona Gardens Commission, made up of directors from the regional district board, is planning on applying for matching federal and provincial funding to undertake $28.1 million in improvements to Strathcona Gardens that were identified during a multi-year facility needs assessment study.

Director Adams said local governments are typically more successful in securing senior government funding if they can show they have the means to provide their share of the required funding.

“The importance here is to have a plan in place that is putting our portion of the money aside,” Adams said. “I think a seven-year (term) may make the number a little bit more palatable but I do think it’s important the board approves the commission’s plan to have a shovel-ready, money-ready plan.”

Cornfield asked Finance Manager Dawn Christenson what the impact of spreading the taxation over seven years, as opposed to five, would be.

Christenson said her best guess would be somewhere in the range of $60 to $70 annually.

That still didn’t suit Cornfield.

“I can’t support seven annual years,” Cornfield said. “This is a little too much in my opinion. I could have supported a one-year, single time.”

Campbell River Director Ron Kerr said it’s something that has to be done.

“I think this is infrastructure and in this community, we’ve held off on a lot of our infrastructure investments over the last five or more years and you know, at some point infrastructure breaks down and you have to start replacing it,” he said. “Even though this is a seven year annual contribution, the financial plan comes up every year. We have a choice every single year to decide if we want to contribute. In reality, we have a choice coming up next year and the following year and we could say enough’s enough.”

In the end, the board agreed to go with the seven-year plan, with directors Jim Abram (Area C), Cornfield and Larry Samson (Campbell River) – who wanted 10 years – opposed.

“This money is going into a reserve fund so that we can provide that back to the community,” Babchuk said. “This is a fantastic project for Campbell River and Area D.”

Area D Director Brenda Leigh agreed and urged the board to move quickly on the wellness centre.

“We’ve had the wellness centre in our minds for the last decade,” Leigh said. “As the population ages and injuries and illness and age takes its toll on the community, they are wanting and needing to access our re-habilitation facilities and our water facilities more and more,” Leigh said. “The people who really need it, need it now. We really need to focus on getting that wellness centre up and running.”

The regional district is expected to officially approve and adopt its budget at next week’s Thursday board meeting.