Nelson city council is proposing a two per cent tax increase this year that is largely intended to cover inflation.
“Our biggest task has been to hold the line and hold steady so there are only inflationary increases,” said Mayor Deb Kozak.
The increase, according to chief financial officer Colin McClure, would cost the owner of a $320,000 home $28 per year and would generate $150,000 in revenue for the city.
Of the city’s $40-million budget, about $18-million is for operations and that’s where residents’ tax money goes: fire, police, garbage, cemetery, parks, transit, library, roads, salaries and benefits, and so on.
Salaries and benefits make up about 64 per cent of the operations budget. This means those funds are committed through collective agreements with the four unions representing city employees.
Water, sewer and hydro are not part of the operations budget because they are self-funded through their own taxes and fees. They are all proposed to rise this year also, by two, three, and two per cent respectively.
Some of the operations money goes into reserves that the city maintains for such things as equipment, buildings, the airport, and downtown and waterfront upgrades.
In most years, tax revenue only pays for about half of the operations expenses, and the city must make up the rest from other sources including grants from other levels of government, and transit, parking ticket, and garbage revenue. The city has created a new source of income this year by hiring out its financial staff to administer the budgets of Salmo, Slocan, and Silverton.
This year, with a two per cent tax increase, the proposed operations budget will come up short by $24,615, according to McClure.
But this will be more than offset by another category of income that is new this year: $140,000 from Multi Material BC, the company that has taken over recycling in much of the province. Multi Material BC has hired the city to carry out recycling pick-up in Nelson.
That will leave the draft operations budget with a $130,000 surplus. The question is where to spend it.
After an analysis of the status of the city’s approximately 30 buildings during the past year, McClure said, the city has concluded it needs to add $50,000 to building maintenance.
There is a proposed $25,000 to hire a temporary employee to catch up on a backlog of legal updates to bylaws, $15,000 for a one time city-wide yard waste cleanup, and $50,000 to increase funding to the Nelson Police Department.
Those and a few smaller items would already amount to more than the $130,000 surplus.
However, city council has received a request from the Nelson police for an increase of $311,000 to cover the cost of two additional police officers and an administrative staff person. That would be the police’s first staffing increase in 18 years and would amount to an increase of 10.2 per cent over the previous year’s police budget.
The police request appears to be the only seriously contentious issue on the budget table this year. The $50,000 for the police mentioned above is an attempt to at least partially meet that request, said McClure, who hastened to add that the issue is still under discussion.
“Council has decided they need more information before granting a request of this size,” said Kozak. “This amount will have long lasting impact on the budget.”
What further information about policing does the city need?
“We want to better understand what calls police are responding to,” Kozak said. “For example there is a definite concern at council that we have police officers being deployed at the hospital and they spend up to six hours at a time there with people with mental health issues. That is not the responsibility of a local police department.
“We need some cooperation or assistance from Interior Health to provide security services up there at peak times. So it is about how they are being deployed, what is the nature of the work they are doing, and are there other community supports we need to access before we increase police services.
“There are questions around population size and a dramatic increase in mental health calls. I have meetings set up later this month at Interior Health about issues police are facing on the street and up at the hospital as well.”
Asked if anything could come out of those discussions with the health authority before the budget is finalized in May, Kozak said she is confident and stressed the current version of the budget is a proposal, not a final draft.
“Police officers are highly trained as emergency service personnel,” she said, “and if you have got them tied up doing things not related to policing, there is a problem and we need to figure out how to fix that.”
McClure will present the provisional budget to the public on March 12 at the library, with an open house starting at 6 p.m. and McClure’s formal presentation at 7.
This article was updated on March 7 by adding the information in paragraph 6 about the increases in water, sewer, and hydro rates.