Port Alberni city council has trimmed $148,000 from its draft five year financial plan in a bid to lower the proposed 13 per cent residential tax rate increase for 2013.
The initial round of cuts reduces the increase by 1.2 per cent.
The cutting isn’t finished yet. Councillors began combing through departmental presentations line-by-line starting with Parks and Recreation at Wednesday’s special budget meeting looking for projects to trim.
Another special meeting to continue going through department presentations will be held on Monday, Feb. 18, 6 p.m., at city council chambers.
Council initially proposed an increase of 13 per cent to the residential tax rate, while business and industrial tax rates would stay the same. Several large ticket infrastructure items have been pencilled into this year’s budget — some which are required, such as VIHA-mandated water improvements, and some which are from the city’s wish list.
“I understand we’re trying to make Port Alberni a great place to live,” Coun. Wendy Kerr said. “But the people who live here now have to be able to pay for it.”
Residents have been critical of the residential tax rate increase, city human resource manager Theresa Kingston said.
Kingston reviewed the public input to date into the budget process. Twenty-three people provided input, and 19 opposed the rate increase, characterizing it as “crazy” and “shocking”, as well as “disgusting” and “outrageous”, Kingston said.
The comments must be taken in context, Coun. Hira Chopra said. “They have to run their households. We have to run the city,” Chopra said.
Councillors cut $116,500 from the Parks and Recreation budget, including $29,000 in renovations to the multiplex, $43,000 in staffing, and a $30,000 Harbour Quay sign replacement, which was deferred to 2014. A further $14,000 in cuts came from Harbour Quay maintenance programs.
The $40,000 Roger Street Crossing pre-study was also cut from the budget. Chopra argued that doing the study would flesh out the project cost in today’s dollars. “Why spend $40,000 to find out what we already know?” Mayor John Douglas said.
The $47,000 for two new floats slated for Clutesi Haven Marina was also cut. The project was being underwritten with the city’s land sale reserve fund, so the cut won’t impact the residential tax rate, Chopra said.
Projects that council expect to proceed with include the Waterfront Industrial Road study, $280,000 for road improvements, and the $30,000 Pathways to Success initiative with the high school.
Improvements to the RCMP reception area totalling $10,000 will go ahead because they address health and safety concerns.
Councillors also voted to request a two per cent increase in the annual grant from Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District for non-residents’ use of city facilities. Coun. Hira Chopra initially asked for a five per cent increase. But Solda and Coun. Dan Washington opposed it the move, saying the ACRD would never go for it.
Coun. Rob Cole suggested that each city department submit budgets with two per cent increases to reflect cost of living increases.
Chopra argued against it, saying the move doesn’t take into account fixed costs such as collective bargaining agreements, as well as increases in hydro rates and other utilities. City finance manager Cathy Rothwell later confirmed that fixed costs alone account for almost eight per cent of the total budget.
City staff will examine a budget based on two per cent department increases if they are asked, City Manager Ken Watson said. But he cautioned it’s not about belt tightening anymore. “It’s now about amputating,” he said.