Lantzville councillors discussed significantly reducing a planned property tax hike, but want to wait and see before they make a decision.
Mayor Mark Swain brought forward a motion April 6 to dip into reserves in order to reduce the District of Lantzville’s planned 23-per cent property tax increase to about 10 per cent. The reason, he said, is the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial uncertainty it has created for residents.
“If council had the information it has today back when we were actually doing the financial planning process, we probably wouldn’t have budgeted for a 23-per cent tax increase,” Swain said. “And I think with such uncertain times ahead of us, anything we can do to try to mitigate the financial impact to our residents … would be in order.”
His motion called for $250,000 from the district’s accumulated general operating surplus reserve fund be spent on the 2020 annual operating budget. The motion would require amending a bylaw that specifically prevents money from that reserve being spent on the operating budget.
Coun. Jamie Wilson said he agreed with the spirit of the motion, but wished to hold off because “it is just literally mind-blowing how fast the landscape changes” as far as provincial and federal orders and relief announcements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We need to move on this, but we need to just wait and see what our provincial government is going to do to help municipalities,” Wilson said. “And then once we get a clear answer right before we have to send out the notices for the taxes, then that’s when we would be making a decision on this … We might have to help and help even more than what this proposal is, or we might be OK.”
Coun. Will Geselbracht asked for a staff report to help inform any council decision, and generally agreed with Wilson about holding off on the motion for now.
“I think that’s prudent and I don’t think anybody would criticize us for taking a measured response to this to see exactly what’s going to happen,” he said.
Councillors voted to bring back the motion, with an accompanying staff report, to their May 11 meeting. The vote was 3-1 with Coun. Ian Savage opposed.
Also at the April 6 meeting, Lantzville council unanimously adopted a bylaw to waive late-payment fees on water and sewer usage bills through June 30.