All but one vote in favour of City financial plan

Councillor Surinderpal Rathor was the lone dissenting voice as council approved the first three readings of its 2011 financial plan bylaw.

Councillor Surinderpal Rathor was the lone dissenting voice as council approved the first three readings of its 2011 financial plan bylaw.

Despite being called out for electioneering, Rathor said he  would not support council’s proposed 2011 tax increase of three per cent.

“Our state of economy is not as bad as it was two years back,” he said. “We are in recovery but that doesn’t mean we keep increasing taxes.

“We have to stop somewhere. We can not suck more blood out of a stone.”

Rathor said during budget discussions he let it be known he would approve an increase up to two per cent on “the condition you can convince me two per cent is needed.”

Following the meeting , Rathor suggested the City had at least a $200,000 surplus it could apply to the 2011 budget that he said would reduce the tax increase to one per cent.

On Wednesday, City chief administrative officer Brian Carruthers confirmed there are funds available in the general surplus.

He said the City ended 2010 with approximately a $600,000 surplus; council decided to commit $200,000 to  the paving reserve fund and therefore $400,000 remains. Carruthers described the general surplus as the City’s “rainy-day” fund or a savings account to cover unplanned eventualities.

“Council could actually take all the general surplus funds and reduce taxes if it wanted to. But council has to make strategic decisions around the budget,” he said.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, Coun. Tom Barr told Rathor that maybe the reason the three per cent is necessary is because of the years where council approved a zero per cent increase. In 2004 and 2005 council approved zero per cent.

“Three per cent is still very reasonable and I thank staff this amount is not higher,” Barr said.

Coun. Natalie Hebert agreed.

“It didn’t start out at three per cent. I believe the number first came in at five per cent,” she said.

“You can’t run a City with zero per cent. You have huge raises in future needs to maintain infrastructure.”

Coun. Sue Zacharias called zero per cent “irresponsible” and “pie in the sky.”

“I think we’re doing the right thing,” she said. “I  think most people understand what’s going on.”

Mayor Kerry Cook pointed to growing fixed costs such as the municipal election, policing costs, bargaining unit salary increases, management salary increases, debt servicing, as well as the ongoing implementation of the pavement management plan that made an increase necessary.

“Zero per cent is nice but there are big bills we planned for that. We budgeted for that,” Cook said.

However, following the meeting Rathor maintained that those costs could be met while keeping the increase at zero or one per cent.

Approval for the budget is necessary before May 10.