Taxes are going up again next year for Campbell River taxpayers.
On Wednesday afternoon, the final day of budget deliberations, city council approved a 2.45 per cent tax increase for 2016. There will be no increase to all other tax classes.
The residential increase translates to an extra $37 in property taxes for the average assessed Campbell River home.
Just prior to arriving at that figure, council was sitting at a 2.95 per cent increase following three days of budget planning. Just as budget planning was about to wrap up, however, Coun. Larry Samson convinced council to dip into the city’s reserve account to reduce the budget by 0.5 per cent.
“This is higher than I’d like to see,” Samson said of the 2.95 increase. “We put $1.8 million last year in the Financial Stabilization account, that was extra money taken in. By bringing it down to 2.4, I think that’s sellable to our citizens. It’s much more palatable.”
It’s a similar move to what happened during 2015 budget planning when council decided to take $200,000 out of the city’s 2014 general operating surplus to get this year’s tax increase down to 1.69 per cent.
Coun. Michele Babchuk, like last time, disagreed with the move.
“I will not support it,” Babchuk said. “I don’t believe you take money out of your savings to pay your bills.”
Samson said it wouldn’t be a loss to the savings account, as it’s extra funding council put in during the year.
“I don’t see it as taking out,” Samson said. “This was money put in last year through taxation or revenue. It wasn’t money already tucked away.”
In the end, council voted to use the money from the reserve account to offset taxation, with Babchuk and Mayor Andy Adams opposed.
Adams, however, was pleased with the budget as a whole, and in particular with council’s decisions to beef up security in the downtown core and improve downtown parking lots.
“We hope with all the initiatives, in particular the SLCRs (service level change requests) for public safety and enhancements, that they are appreciated by the community,” Adams said. “I think we’ve developed a budget that is palatable and provides a tremendous amount of capital projects which the community has expressed a desire that we do.”
The safety measures include money for 15 extra hours a week for security downtown, as well as funding for increased video surveillance, as well as support for the RCMP in investigating major crime.
Samson said the position is needed because, as council heard from RCMP Insp. Jeff Preston last month, Campbell River ranks 260 out 303 communities in Canada for severe crime (with 303 being the worst).
“We’re getting worse,” Samson said. “Downtown liquor and disturbances are up 30 per cent over last year, robberies are up 60 per cent, assaults are up 13 per cent, sexual offences are up 35 per cent. Our own downtown safety survey showed that of people working in the downtown core, over 50 per cent said they feel more unsafe now than when the first started working in our downtown. Only 25 per cent of the people who work downtown said they feel very safe.
“By funding this position it allows the RCMP officer to come off the desk, away from the office and get out onto the streets where they do their best work,” Samson added. “It frees up an RCMP officer.”
Council also allocated $10,000 to improve lighting in downtown parking lots and landscaping to make them cleaner and safer.
City Manager Deborah Sargent said she believes that overall council has put together a good budget that contains a lot of good services.
“I think this has been an excellent process,” she said. “The many, many SLCRs brought forward were priorities for your staff and council and I think council did an excellent job of balancing those priorities with a stable tax rate.”
- $125,000 for downtown revitalization concept plan and design
- $7,500 for Campbellton planning projects
- An additional $10,000 in funding for the design of the city’s 3.5 acre waterfront property near Discovery Harbour marina
- $20,000 to clean up the beach access at the southern end of the Maritime Heritage Centre parking lot
- $10,000 for downtown parking lot maintenance and landscaping
- $15,000 for increased security in the downtown core
- $35,000 to increase video surveillance downtown
- $26,303 for major crime and general investigation support