It looks like Williams Lake taxpayers can expect a three per cent general tax increase in 2012.
At Tuesday evening’s city council meeting, council gave the first three readings to its five-year-financial plan, which would see a three per cent increase each year from 2012 to 2016 — each year the budget and taxes are decided, however, so it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a three per cent increase in 2013-2016.
The next debate will be around how the tax ratio will be allocated. In the public budget meeting held before the council meeting, council voted to investigate an industrial tax shift to other property classes.
Coun. Ivan Bonnell asked what the mythical average would be determined with the tax shift, but heard that the city wouldn’t know that until it determines the actual percentage of the tax shift.
In seconding the motion to make the shift Cook stated said the city has to begin to make changes.
“Because we have the second highest industrial tax rate in the province, it doesn’t help us. The question isn’t whether industry is paying its fair share, the question should be where are we going to be in 10 or 20 years,” Cook said, adding if changes aren’t made now, the city could be in more of a situation down the road.
Even if it’s a small shift, the mayor said she thinks it will be symbolic.
The three per cent general tax increase is a reduction from the original 2010 five-year-financial plan that called for a five per cent increase each year, reminded Cook.
“It’s not easy to come up with these decisions, but we’re trying to balance the future needs and the current needs of the community. Tough decisions had to be made,” Cook said.
Councillors Surinderpal Rathor and Ivan Bonnell voted against the five-year-financial plan.
Both councillors have voiced a wish throughout the budget process that they didn’t want to see any increase.
While he said he appreciated staff for working hard to make reductions to the budget, Rathor added he has not heard from one resident that increasing taxes is the way to go.
“We should have cut back more. Everything is going up — hydro, natural gas, and insurance premiums,” Rathor said.
Rathor suggested that the other members of council had gone into the process determined to see a three per cent tax increase, but Coun. Geoff Bourdon replied that Rathor was the only one who entered the process saying he would accept no tax increase.
“To me you talk about making a decision, but I don’t quite understand how you go about saying that the rest of council went in with their minds made up,” Bourdon said.
Rathor countered if there’s a will there’s a way, and insisted he didn’t agree that the goal of a no tax increase couldn’t have been achieved.
Bonnell told council he’s holding his comments for the final reading and adoption of the five-year plan, budget bylaw and the tax-rate bylaw at upcoming meetings.
He did say, however, the he won’t be supporting any of those documents.
Chief financial officer Pat Higgins outlined the challenges faced by the city going into 2012, including a $2 million dollar loss in industrial taxation, and a subsequent $100,000 loss due to appeals. Paving requirements total $1.4 million to complete and maintain roads, while an eight per cent rise in policing costs of $303,480 for accommodation and contract increases.
Higgins said council and staff resolved over the budget process that there would be no significant increases in the cost of services, no increase in sewer or water rates, and the general operating budget has been reduced by 1.2 per cent in overall costs.
The operating budget was decreased by $282,410 and staff training and development by $54,660.
In addition to the rise of RCMP costs, there will be $122,000 put into the Business Expansion Strategy, and the transit budget will increase by $50,000, in order to increase HandyDART services by 12 hours a week, after the Seniors Advisory Council advocated for extended service.
“We’re hoping to share the cost of the HandyDART service with BC Transit,” Higgins said.
Throughout the public budget meetings, council unanimously endorsed putting $200,000 away each year for a new pavement reserve and $350,000 each year for a capital reserve.
“With those capital contributions we will be able to fund the South Lakeside Drive project, [deferred for 2013] through the transfer of reserves and other funds, without having to borrow money,” Higgins explained.
Cook admitted it hadn’t been an easy process, but that’s part of the democratic process and she appreciated the fact that some councillors made it very clear that they didn’t want to see an increase.