Those who attended Mayor Don McCormick’s State of the City speech at Centre 64 on Thursday evening received a lot of information, and the general consensus seemed to be it was an evening well spent.
About 75 people turned out to hear what the Mayor had to say.
The major theme of the evening was the five strategic priorities set by Mayor and Council when they began their term two years ago.
McCormick said it was important to differentiate between the ‘community’ and the ‘corporation’ of the city of Kimberley. The community includes the people, the vibe, the volunteers and non-profits, while the corporation provides the core services, facilities and manages taxation.
Overall, McCormick said there had been three consecutive years of improvement in tourism, with room stay numbers up 15 per cent per year.
“The two-per cent room tax we collect is the highest it’s been since 2008,” he said. “The number of business licenses is in the neighbourhood of 530, with just under 400 of those resident businesses. The business community is pretty healthy.”
He also touched on the revived retail scene, saying both the Platzl and downtown Marysville had a renewed vibe because entrepreneurs were taking risks and finding success.
Building permits were up again, the highest since 2008 as well.
Now for the challenges. McCormick explained that the city budget was $25 million, all of which came in from taxes, fees and grants.
“Even though that’s a lot of money, it’s stressing the business model,” he said.
Mayor and Council are well aware of the challenges they face, and hope the five strategic priorities will help guide them.
Those priorities are financial accountability, infrastructure renewal, finding new money, customer service and communication.
McCormick said that when he and the new council were elected, City CAO Scott Sommerville wrote a report assessing the years from 2001, when the mine closed, to 2015. What they found was that residential assessments were up 173 per cent in that time and commercial taxes up 43 per cent. 84 per cent of the millrate was funded through residential taxes.
“For the last 15 years, all growth has been on the backs of residents and small business,” he said. That is not sustainable and has to stop, he said.
The principle of the Municipal Price Index, in which tax increases should match the municipal rate of inflation is what the city is trying to follow, although McCormick doesn’t rule out future tax increases greater than the MPI. This year the MPI is 2.02 per cent and that is what Council is aiming for in terms of a tax increase.
The problem facing the city is infrastructure renewal. Study has shown that the city should be spending $8.2 million a year on replacing infrastructure in order to keep up with depreciation, but they are only able to spend $1.2 million.
“We’d have to raise taxes 80 per cent to spend that $8.2 million. Obviously we can’t do that. I’m not trying to scare anybody, but that’s what we are dealing with.”
He noted that the recent utility fee increases have the water and sewer funds on their way to being sustainable, but the key was finding new money. Part of that was finding more land that can be developed for industry.
McCormick also spoke briefly about communication and customer service before wrapping up by telling the audience that he and Council were following the strategic priorities and making progress.
“We understand what we are dealing with,” he said.
Later, McCormick said that he thought the evening went well.
“It was great to see a good crowd, and the great questions show everyone was really engaged. We continue to look at ways to inform our community and based on the positive reaction last night, I am sure we will be doing this again.”