City budget 2013: Get out your wallet and find an extra $78
The average Kamloops homeowner will pay about $60 more in property taxes this year.
With earlier increases to sewer and garbage fees, the overall price tag for living in Kamloops rises by $78 for owners of an average-assessed home, which is $344,000.
In a special budget meeting that ran into overtime on Tuesday morning (March 12), city council approved a 3.55 per cent tax hike for 2013.
But, while seven out of nine councillors approved the increase, no one at the table seemed happy with the outcome.
“I’m not happy with it by any means,” said Mayor Peter Milobar, who called this year’s budget the toughest he has faced in a decade.
“I’m not happy getting the oil changed in my truck, either, but I get it done.”
Council went into Tuesday’s session facing a base tax hike of 3.78, with a list of supplementary items that would have pushed the increase above seven per cent.
Councillors rejected requests for dog parks, streetlights, extra cash for sidewalk repairs and a fund for track replacements at the Tournament Capital Centre, and opted to fund the single-largest staff request — $905,000 for renovations at the former John Tod elementary to house the new North Shore Community Centre — through a reserve fund rather than through a tax increase this year.
Council also agreed to spend $375,000 per year on repairs to the TCC, including a $340,000 roof replacement for the Canada Games Pool.
A smelly lift station on River Street will also get fixed this year, at a cost of $340,000.
Council agreed to fund one new Kamloops RCMP officer, who will deal with domestic-violence files. Mounties had requested two new positions — the other officer would have worked on mental-health calls — and council initially agreed to the full request.
However, after a round of cutting and an agreement to use the city’s entire $1-million surplus from 2012 to bring down the tax hike left the city with an increase of 3.6 per cent, Coun. Donovan Cavers urged council to fund half the RCMP request, trimming about $55,000 off the budget.
Cavers said funding the mental-health officer would have been “embracing provincial downloading.”
“I believe this is the RCMP sort of wading into medical situations, which I don’t think is appropriate,” he said. “I think positions like this ought to be supported through Interior Health.”
Other last-minute cut suggestions did not receive enough support from council.
Coun. Nelly Dever urged council to drop $20,000 in seed money for a waterpark in Westsyde (full cost $300,000) and to cut the amount of money for repairs at the TCC. Neither suggestion drew more than a few votes.
Coun. Tina Lange suggested going back to the base budget — the amount the city projects it will need to keep service levels at 2012 levels.
“Let’s ask staff to go back to the drawing table and find us half a per cent, or 0.6, where they can find some cuts in road sweeping or garbage pickup, or wherever they think they can do it to keep our tax rate under three per cent,” she said.
Coun. Arjun Singh agreed, saying he is not comfortable with a rate “that would be one of the highest tax increases we’ve had in the last 10 years.
“I need to see a little bit more pushing. If it can’t happen, it can’t happen,” he said.
“But, I think we should push a little further.”
Other councillors didn’t see there was room to push.
“We’ve got it down to 3.55 per cent. Many of us said we wanted it lower than that. I think the public wants it lower than that. But, the circumstances we’ve been dealt in this particular tax year won’t allow that,” said Coun. Ken Christian, pointing to a high number of repairs to city buildings due in 2013 and the increased costs from 2012’s public-transit expansion.
“For us to say at this point in time, ‘Gee, let’s close the Brock Arena’ would be a bad way to go.”
Milobar said most of the increase in this year’s base budget is going to costs the city can’t cut — a new RCMP contract, with a $1.9-million increase, and an additional $1.17 million in wages and benefits to city staff.
“It’s the built-in, inherent problem we have with this budget,” he said.
Only Singh and Dever voted against the 3.55 per cent increase.
Council will ratify this year’s tax rate April 9.