The City of Port Alberni is proposing a 16.86 percent tax increase for 2024 in the first draft of its financial plan.
The city’s financial manager Andrew McGifford brought forward a “high level” overview of the 2024-2028 financial plan to a committee of the whole meeting on Monday, Feb. 5. The draft budget mostly follows the 2023-2027 financial plan and proposes keeping current service levels the same throughout the city.
McGifford explained that inflation is part of the reason for the large increase.
“Obviously there’s a lot of inflationary pressure at this time,” he said. “Everyone’s facing the increases.”
Police and fire department services are both seeing large increases, at 2.74 percent ($765,071) and 1.56 percent ($432,755) respectively. He explained that this is due to increases in their contracts. The city does not have a say in contract negotiations.
“These are services that are very important to the community, but are a large portion of the overall budget,” said McGifford.
Capital expenditures will also see a large increase of 3.16 percent or $877,253, as the city has a few projects planned for this year. The financial plan does not include any funding for the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society (IHS) or the return of the steam train. The IHS had asked the city for $491,503 in its 2024 budget.
“This is where we do not have enough funding to use our reserves, so we’re taking from taxation,” said McGifford. “That is a significant component of this financial plan.”
The budget is not written in stone, he explained. It must be adopted by May 14, but there will be plenty of council meetings and committee of the whole meetings scheduled between now and April to go over the financial plan, including public engagement sessions. The first one is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m.
“We’re going to chip away at that,” Coun. Cindy Solda promised.
Full details about the financial plan will be included in next week’s regular meeting of council on Feb. 12, when staff brings it forward for first reading.
Members of the public were not happy to hear about the proposed increase. One Port Alberni resident, Neil Anderson, said he expects tax increases to be more than 10 percent for the next five years.
“That’s mind-blowing to me,” he told the committee. “My taxes will go up by about $500. Like so many people, I’m on a pension. It’s getting very hard for people.”