Courtenay passes financial plan despite hiring controversy

Courtenay has passed its annual financial plan and tax rate bylaw – but not without a Custer’s last stand by Mayor Larry Jangula and Councillor Manno Theos.

  • May. 3, 2017 8:00 a.m.

Courtenay has passed its annual financial plan and tax rate bylaw – but not without a Custer’s last stand by Mayor Larry Jangula and Councillor Manno Theos.

The two voted against every motion Monday night to implement the plan over concerns about hiring 12 additional city hall staff.

Here’s the bottom line for Courtenay property owners:

* The tax increase for an average residential property, valued at $311,200 (216 value from BC Statistics) is estimated to increase by 1.58 per cent, or $19.20 for the municipal taxation portion of the tax notice. This is equivalent to $1.60 per month or $0.05 per day.

* The same average property inclusive of all user fees (water, sewer and garbage) and tax rates collected for other entities (BC Hospital District, Regional District, BC Assessment, Library, School) and net of the home owner grant, results in a property tax increase of $155.81 or $12.98 monthly or $0.43 per day.

* The property tax increase for an average commercial property, valued at $732,911 is estimated to also see an increase of 1.58 per cent, or $122.92 for the municipal portion of the tax notice. This is equivalent to $10.24 per month or $0.34 per day.

But the major – if not the only – bone of contention is a controversial plan to hire 12 more city hall staffers.

Counc. Doug Hillian defended the action.

“I think that our staff have taken a lot of unnecessary flak over this,” he said. “I believe what they’re doing is in the best interest of the long range development of this city.”

He said much of the correspondence he has received indicates “how we have complex matters where people think there may be simple solutions.”

Hillian said he didn’t want to minimize residents’ concerns, but said the average citizen doesn’t have the time to weigh all the complex information.

“That is why they elect a council,” he said.

Hillian said he received a letter from a former municipal official with experience in Vancouver and Mississauga commending Courtenay CAO Dave Allen and his staff for undertaking an asset management plan, “something most municipalities fail to do well.”

What seems to be really sticking in people’s craw, though, is spending $90,000 a year for a “gardener” position.

That salary is set under the city’s union collective agreement, and includes a huge whack of benefits. Plus the person filling that job has to have horticultural certification. It’s not just “basically tending the flowers.”

Mayor Larry Jangula asked, though, if that was “a realistic salary in the community.”

“I do not question the asset management part. But it’s pretty hard to go to the taxpayer and say it’s all asset management,” he said.

Counc. Manno Theos said yes, city growth has been and is currently strong. But there have been stronger periods of population growth when staff wasn’t increased.

Counc. Hillian said city hall staff’s job is to run the city, and “they’re telling us they can’t run it with the current staff they have.”

“That’s why they’re asking for these positions … to better and more effectively manage. I think that’s really what the issue is. It does involve a little bit of pain. We live in a world where the cost of things goes up,” he said.

Hillian said the complexities of managing the city and related infrastructure don’t go away.

“We’ll have the opportunity in 18 months to be tested … and let the chips fall where they may,” Hillian said, referring to the next municipal election in 2018.

Mayor Jangula said many Courtenay residents are on fixed incomes, and they can’t afford to keep paying more and more.

“We’re actually gambling on the real estate market and I just think that’s risky,” he said, referring to the increases in property assessments and developments that will fund the new staff positions.

Comox Valley Record

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