Williams Lake city council has clawed back its proposed tax rates for 2023 by reducing the 2023 capital budget and project plan by about $700,000.
The move comes after council had been eyeing an 11 per cent taxation increase overall, 16 per cent residential.
Voting in favour of removing the $700,000 were Mayor Surinderpal Rathor, councillors Jazmyn Lyons, Sheila Boehm and Scott Nelson.
Councillors Joan Flaspohler, Angie Delainey and Michael Moses voted against.
Staff was expected to revise the mill rate bylaw and the five-year financial plan to reflect the reduction for council to meet again Wednesday, April 19 to vote on them.
The $700,000 item line being removed from the budget was for reconstruction of a portion of Fourth Avenue North.
Leading up to Tuesday evening’s council meeting councillors Nelson and Boehm had been pushing to have the mill rate reduced and the budget trimmed.
It was Mayor Surinderpal Rathor, however, who made the motion at the meeting to remove the Fourth Avenue reconstruction project from the budget.
He said with the announcement on Monday that Tolko Soda Creek is reducing to one shift and it will impact 65 positions and have a trickle-down effect, he felt it was the right the thing to do.
“The situation is not good,” he said.
Coun. Joan Flaspohler, finance chair, said all of council voted on the budget and deemed the projects necessary for the community.
Even with the 11 per cent tax increase that had been proposed, she said the city would still need an additional $4.3 million and will have to utilize surpluses and reserves.
“Without a certain amount of taxation we will only continue to fall behind.”
Coun. Delainey said when she looks at the capital planning for the next four years, the present council has inherited a list of projects.
“A dollar we defer today ends up costing two dollars. I cannot get behind a continued deferral,” she said.
Recently the city received a $3.7 million grant from the province’s Growing Communities Fund and council debated where the money should go.
Coun. Nelson made a motion the city use some of the grant funding in the budget now to reduce taxation, but it was defeated.
Council voted in favour five-to-two on a recommendation from staff that the money be put into reserve funds toward the city’s portion of planning and construction of a water treatment plant to remove manganese from the city’s drinking water, which is estimated to have a $25 million price tag.
The city has applied for a grant for the water treatment plant and if succesful the city’s cost would be 25 per cent or $6 million of the project and the grant would cover 75 per cent.
Resident Stuart Westie commended council, saying the one place he can spend money and get the bang for his buck is his taxes.
“When I spend a dollar’s worth of taxes I get a dollar’s worth of services. As far as I am concerned spend what we have to spend to do the job. It isn’t going to go away and our town is just going to go downhill and we are going to think we are saving money,” he said. “The previous council should have been raising taxes more and we wouldn’t have the mess you have inherited.”
Resident John Pickford said he appreciated the honest discussion about the mill rate and taxation, but also asked council to look at the tax exemption businesses receive if they do improvements to the outside of their buildings.
Business owner Scott Tucker said if council could knock down the mill rate it would be a positive story for the community at a time when people are looking for relief.
“I think it can be reworked a little bit more, especially what has transpired in the last week,” he said, noting with the announcement from Tolko. “We can do a bit better for the people.”
Chamber of commerce president Paul French, who is also a former city councillor, said the mill rate dictates taxes.
“You need to look at the mill rate, look at what you need, and be fair across the board,” he told council.
Jessica Thomas recently moved back to Williams Lake and is worried about rising costs.
“There are a lot of young families in this town and we understand we have to pay taxes and yearly increases, but the rate we are seeing we cannot financially stay in Williams Lake to be a part of that,” she said. “From a young family aspect, if I cannot pay my bills I am going to have to leave town.”
Resident Elke Reiner said it is time that the city start calculating inflation annually in the budget.
After the meeting Coun. Flaspohler said she was pleased with the involvement from the community who attended the council meeting and shared their perspectives.
“As Coun. Moses said in the room it was actually a really good democratic process. We were all putting our opinions on the table and were independent in our views,” she said.