Williams Lake city council has asked staff to develop a budget based on a zero per cent tax increase for 2018, Mayor Walt Cobb confirmed Tuesday.
“We have done that for the last two years and the main reason we did is because things were in a mess and the majority did not feel comfortable going for a tax increase when we couldn’t really explain where the money was going and what was being spent on projects,” Cobb told the Tribune Tuesday. “If you look at the history, there was stuff budgeted every year, the money disappeared and the projects didn’t get done.”
Coun. Laurie Walters, however, said with a zero tax increase year after year, the City is achieving short-term gain for long-term pain.
“Whenever I’ve gone to local government school or workshops, they always caution against running at a zero per cent tax increase and that sooner or later it’s going to catch up with us,” Walters told the Tribune. “Managing a municipal corporation, for me, is not about low taxes, it’s about progressive leadership.”
“If we carried through and agreed to everything there, we would deplete all our surpluses, so we have to fine tune it. There are things that should be done and could be done on that list, but we aren’t going to be able to carry through with it all this year.”
Cobb admitted he has concerns about continuing to have zero per cent tax increases, but said until the City had its house in order, council was not ready to go for a tax increase.
The rationale for no tax increase this time around is because of the wildfires, he added.
“We have a lot of people that are hurting, we have businesses that are hurting and industries that are hurting, and we have jobs in jeopardy so that’s why we’ve asked staff to look at the zero increase.”
Cobb said he told the Chamber of Commerce at its regular monthly meeting the City will not be able to continue with zero tax increases in the future.
“It’s not sustainable unless we start cutting services and at this stage we said zero increase with no service cuts.”
During the next few months there will be a lot of discussion before the budget is completed, Cobb promised.
Walters said it’s no secret that she has been proactive about long-term planning.
“If we hold our tax increase to zero, it results in a two percent decrease,” she added. “Our assets are going to deteriorate, and we don’t have the reserves like we used to, which I think the previous city council felt was important at the time.”
As for Cobb’s criticism of the previous councils, Walters responded that casting and blaming previous councils is not the way to think about the bigger picture.
“This is about moving forward and planning ahead,” she said. “If we were to increase our taxes, it would go toward something, whether it was paving or something else.”
There is so much the City can do with planning ahead, she added.
Cobb recently said he plans to run again for the position of mayor of Williams Lake in the 2018 municipal election in October.