Windfalls help Nelson city budget
Nelson’s parks, police department, library and several arts and cultural groups are all poised to receive more funding this year if city council adopts its provisional budget as it stands.
The draft document, which also calls for a two per cent residential tax increase along with water, sewer, and electricity rate hikes, was presented at an open house Monday.
Chief financial officer Colin McClure explained the city expects $385,000 in new revenues from a variety of sources, including $140,000 through an arrangement with Regional District of Central Kootenay areas E and F to fund park maintenance. That money will be reassigned from debt payments about to be retired on the fields, built jointly by the city and rural areas.
Nelson Hydro is also projecting an extra $125,000 dividend to the city. In a letter to customers, general manager Alex Love said 2012 was an “exceptional” year due to the extended spring freshet, which provided enough water for the city’s Bonnington power plant to produce over 90 gigawatt hours, “a record high that has never before been achieved in the 107-year history of the power plant.”
The $500,000 in additional revenue was used to increase power line maintenance, fund capital reserves, and pay a higher dividend back to the city. Overall, Nelson Hydro is expected to contribute more than $2.9 million to city coffers this year, the bulk to general operations.
Additionally, $70,000 is expected in new taxation from projects like the Anderson Gardens housing development, and another $50,000 is due to a quirk in the return of the provincial sales tax. Before the HST was introduced, the city only had to remit five per cent GST to the federal government from its parking meter revenue. When the sales taxes were harmonized, that went up to 12 per cent. The seven per cent savings is earmarked for a downtown/waterfront reserve fund.
Also on the spending side of the ledger, the city is budgeting $70,000 for a new building maintenance manager position, a $50,000 increase to parks, $10,000 more for the library and $22,000 for other community groups.
Several of the latter, including the Capitol Theatre and Touchstones Nelson, recently gave presentations to council asking for modest increases to cover inflation. McClure says the budget tentatively accommodates those requests.
The police department would get another $28,000 — less than they were seeking, but combined with other revenues and savings identified within the existing police budget, McClure said it should be enough to hire a 17th officer, restoring the department to pre-2011 staffing levels.
The city also expects to save $20,000 by restructuring its building inspection department — it has not filled one vacancy — and partnering with the regional district.
“When we need building inspection, the regional district has agreed on a fee-for-service to provide that for us,” McClure said, adding it might lead to additional shared services.
After accounting for the various windfalls, the operating shortfall is $140,000, which the two per cent tax increase will take care of. McClure said staff has a mandate from council to keep it to no more than that. He also suggested unionized city workers may not enjoy the same sort of raises in their next rounds of bargaining.
“In the past few years, we’ve had some significant wage increases and going forward with collective agreements, council is trying to hold the line and keep those costs contained,” he said. “But we have to be diligent on not only wages but supplies and become more efficient.”
McClure said he believed the city’s unions recognize times are tough and are willing to work together, noting a substantial decrease in sick time last year helped the bottom line.
Utility fees up
For a Nelson resident with an average home assessed at $320,000, the property tax increase works out to an extra $24 per year. Residential water rates will go up six per cent, or $27 per year, and sewer five per cent, or $20 annually.
Nelson Hydro will also increase its rates by a little under six per cent as of April 1, which works out to 4.1 per cent for the rest of the calendar year. There will be no change to garbage fees.
The city’s overall operating budget is $40 million. A $12.8 million capital program is planned this year, including completion of the Mountain Station reservoir ultra-violet project and Rosemont electrical substation upgrade.
Mayor John Dooley said only a “handful” of people attended the open house throughout the day. Written feedback will be presented to council next week, and the budget is expected to be given three readings on April 8.