Council had its first budget meeting last Thursday and, while they agreed to add some spending requests to the financial plan, they didn’t take a hard look at cuts.
It was the first of several meetings before council puts the plan out for public comment in March.
As reported, the draft budget includes about $19.6 million in operating expenses and $3.7 million in capital spending. It proposed a five per cent property tax increase, a 2.5 per cent increase in water rates, 5.9 per cent increase in sewer rates and 1.8 per cent increase in garbage rates. The average Revelstoke home, which is worth $271,591, will see its city tax bill go up by $88 compared to 2016.
“All that is based on a core budget, which doesn’t include any additional increases,” McCabe said.
She told council some of the increases are to boost reserves to cover future capital spending.
The bulk of council’s discussion centred on many of the funding requests that weren’t included in the budget, though they also touched on a few other items.
Linda Nixon brought up the $500,000 that is being put into a tax equalization reserve, which is a hedge against assessment appeals by Revelstoke Mountain Resort. The resort has fought to have the condos at the Sutton Place Hotel classified as residential instead of commercial to lower its tax bill.
“I really believe BC Assessment has got it right,” said Nixon. “I think there’s still going to be some risk to that roll, but I don’t think we need to sitting at over a million in that account.”
“It makes me nervous not having the money in the account. I’m concerned about writing big cheques back,” replied Mayor Mark McKee.
McCabe said the city faced as much as $1.375 million in risks to the tax roll, depending on how the appeal board rules, and that it has $1.1 million in the reserve fund, if the $500,000 is put aside. She said she preferred to be conservative.
Council also discussed the city’s long term debt. It currently sits at a little more than $18 million but it is forecast to rise to more than $40 million starting in 2019 when the city proposed to borrow $20 million to build a new sewage treatment plant.
“We have a significant amount of long-term debt and a lot or debt servicing compared to other communities,” said McCabe. “I’m not adverse to long-term debt that obtains a long-term asset.”
McKee said he didn’t mind incurring debt, if it went for city assets, pointing out current debt went to pay for things like water treatment plant and aquatic centre. Debt was also incurred for less sexy water and sewer projects, and some road construction.
“We’re going to be fixing the Big Eddy Water, we’re going to be supplying water to Thomas brook, and we’re going to be doing a lot more managing of our infrastructure than has been done in the past,” he said.
They finished their first budget discussion by going through the list of “non-core” operating expenses listed in appendix D of the financial plan.
Council supported a request to hire a 13th police officer for the RCMP detachment at a cost of $122,000. The officer would be dedicated to investigations and not general duty.
“They’re going to be dealing with child pornography files, with creep catcher files,” said Staff-Sgt. Kurt Grabinsky. “They are complex files. We cannot let that portion of our community become victims.”
Coun. Orlando was the only one to oppose the request, saying the city hired a police officer last year and that there were a lot of budget requests council had to consider first.
McKee said he hoped to get more support from the province to pay for policing, since the RCMP have to police large numbers of tourists on top of the permanent population.
Council asked for more information before agreeing to increase the number of hours dedicated to bylaw enforcement. Staff want to increase bylaw hours to 110 per week from 90 in order to add staffing at night and on weekends. Coun. Aaron Orlando said council needed to decide if they wanted to increase the level or service there.
Council agreed to $24,000 in extra spending to boost staffing at the aquatic centre, but denied another request to hire a part-time staff person to manage accounts payable and program booking.
None of council’s decisions are binding on the final plan.
They have yet to look at cuts, nor did they look at the list of “non-core” capital spending.
“Before we add some new stuff, we need to make some room,” commented Nixon at one point.
Those discussions will take place at a future meeting of the Committee of the Whole. The next one isn’t scheduled until Mar. 9, but it is possible one will take place on Thursday, Feb. 23.
Council has until May 15 to approve its financial plan.