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‘Toughest’ budget year for Lange
Coun. Tina Lange is bracing for a tough ride.
Budget consultations in the Tournament Capital wrapped this week.
In mid-March, council will review feedback gathered from the public, in-person and online, and the cutting will begin.
Lange suspects trimming down this year’s tax increase — currently at 3.85 per cent, or about $65 for the average household, but blooming to more than seven per cent with supplemental items — will be more difficult than usual.
“The fact that we’re looking at such a big increase is very scary for me,” Lange saod.
“This is certainly the toughest year I’ve ever had and, yet, I believe staff have brought forth the cleanest budget ever. I mean, they have done a ton of trimming already.”
Tax increases in Kamloops typically come in under three per cent and, in conversations with KTW, a number of councillors indicated they’re hoping to keep that line.
But, said Coun. Ken Christian, three public-budget meetings brought few suggestions on how to trim the budget — though there was plenty of advocacy for neighbourhood-specific streetlights, parks and sidewalks.
“What we haven’t heard from is that silent majority of people that are expecting we’re going to hold the line,” he said. “And that’s what we have to counter-balance.”
Christian believes the city should look at postponing some of its more expensive capital projects to 2014 or later.
With nearly a dozen staffing increase requests, including two new RCMP officers, in the budget wishlist, Christian thinks it’s time to take a tougher line on the number of employees at city hall.
“The hidden cost there is benefits for staff,” he said.
“Our benefit package, depending on whether they’re inside or outside workers, are running in the 30 per cent range. That’s a significant add to our costs.”
Lange wants to see the city consider less frequent garbage pickup and street sweeping and other small cost-cutting measures.
But, Lange said, there are some big ticket items that can’t be put off.
“There’s a few areas where residents need streetlights and I think the neighbours have a right to have those,” she said. “They’ve said things like if we can afford marigolds, we can afford those streetlights. They make a good point.”
Lange also thinks it’s time the city fix a smelly lift station on Lorne Street, at a cost of $340,000.
That issue drew many residents to this week’s budget discussions and seems to have sympathetic support from many on council (Christian and Coun. Arjun Singh also name the project as one they will support).
Not all councillors are bracing themselves for budget talks, however.
“I didn’t hear any major angst from the community,” said Coun. Nancy Bepple, who calls most of the items council will debate “nice-to-haves.”
Bepple said the city will also have prior year surplus funds to work with, which council can either allocate to reserves or use to bring down the tax rate.
If council draws just under $860,000 from reserves, the tax increase drops to one per cent.
Bepple will go into budget talks advocating for more transit hours — the city has the option to expand the system again in 2014 — and two new RCMP officers, who will work on mental-health and domestic-violence files.