Campbell River’s mayor admits he’s surprised by this year’s tax increase.
Council whittled down the tax hike in 2015 to 1.69 per cent, which equates to $24 more for the average assessed home and a $246.62 increase for the average business.
Mayor Andy Adams said while he was pleased to see council arrive at the figure it did, he has some concerns.
“I think during the last election, the message was loud and clear that we need to be cognizant of tax levels – to be honest, I think we got lower than I thought we would,” Adams said Wednesday afternoon, following three days of budget deliberations. “I expected in the neighbourhood of 2.2 to 2.4 per cent. To get to 1.69 is good on one side but still leaves work to do on the other side. There’s still the outstanding issue of having to replenish our reserves.”
That’s because council, in order to arrive at 1.69 per cent, took $200,000 out of the city’s 2014 general operating surplus.
Adams and first-time councillors Michele Babchuk and Colleen Evans were the only members of council opposed to doing so.
It was Coun. Larry Samson who made the motion to dip into those monies after council was stuck at a 2.64 per cent tax increase following more than four hours of deliberations Wednesday.
Coun. Charlie Cornfield agreed with Samson’s recommendation, sensing that council wasn’t willing to cut any further.
“I would have preferred more harder decisions looking at items that we could eliminate to reduce the increase but if council is at the point where it doesn’t want to reduce activities further and you still want to see a lower tax increase, this to me is one of the only ways we can achieve that so reluctantly I will be supporting,” Cornfield said.
Coun. Babchuk said she couldn’t support using the surplus monies because she was worried about the impact it may have on the city’s reserves, or savings accounts.
“I have a significant concern when we’re talking about drawing on the surplus or drawing down those reserves more as a new councillor, not totally having my head wrapped around what those reserves and surplus actually are,” Babchuk said. “I don’t believe we’re in that big of a quandary right now where we’re landing.
“I would like to see it come down a bit more but not enough that I would like to see that amount come out of reserves.”
The surplus that council is using to lower the tax rate is a portion of the money that council sets aside to pay off the city’s bills, to tide the city over until revenues start to come in. Those funds ensure that the city doesn’t have to borrow money in order to pay its bills, Coun. Cornfield said.
Cornfield added that council and senior staff will meet sometime in the spring to discuss the city’s reserve accounts and how best to replenish them.
And Adams said despite the draw on reserves, he was pleased with the process as a whole and with how well council worked together in forming the 2015 budget.
“This has been an awful lot of new information for some of you,” Adams said, acknowledging new councillors Babchuk, Evans and Marlene Wright. “Over the course of the last three days we’ve conducted ourselves respectfully and I very much appreciate that. There’s been lots of good questions and as a result, I think we’re a better council for it.”
Highlights of the financial plan:
- $145,000 transferred from the general fund to the city’s Facility Reserve.
- A Community Land Development reserve to help fund building fees for non-profits was delayed until 2016, saving $35,000.
- A new sign for the entrance to the Discovery Pier was approved for 2016 ($60,000).
- $16,000 was approved in 2015 for a Campbellton Planning study, to be funded by the Community Works Fund.
- A new graffiti program was approved for $55,000 in 2015, to be funded by taxation.
- $25,000 from the Parks Parcel Tax was allocated for Public Art.
- $3,700 from council contingency was approved for portable washrooms for special events.
- $20,000 for the Community Health Network from council contingency.
- $7,500 in annual funding for the Ishikari Twinning Society, to be funded by taxation.