After a few weeks of budget discussions, the City of Port Alberni is looking at a 2.7 percent tax increase for residential taxpayers.
During a special meeting of council on Monday, Feb. 25, city council managed to pare the proposed tax increase down from 3.8 percent to 2.7 percent. They had started the process at 4.5 percent.
City staff were asked last week to identify budget reduction items, and although managers were not able to identify further budget reductions within the operating budget, they did suggest funds from previous budgets that can be repurposed to the 2019 budget.
“Fortunately, staff have identified some funding for projects funded in previous years for which they don’t think we need to remain committed to,” explained CAO Tim Pley on Monday. “We’re recommending that those funds be reallocated.”
These funds include $100,000 for Maitland Street Storm Upgrade from 2014, $95,112 for Small Storm Capital in 2017 and $67,621 in Sustainability and Community Development from 2012, as well as three other smaller projects.
Mayor Sharie Minions suggested taking this funding and using it to reduce the tax increase to the average home to 2.7 percent.
“I think that’s closer to where all of us were hoping to end up,” she said.
Councillor Cindy Solda agreed. “I think with the assessments being as high as they are, some people are going to be really hit with a high tax,” she said. “This might be a good first year for them to have a lower tax.”
Some of the projects council will be funding include $200,000 for the rehabilitation of the Roger Creek bridge, $300,000 for various paving and storm/sewer work, $55,000 for a genie lift for the Alberni Valley Multiplex and $13,250 to cover the basic costs involved in welcoming cruise ship passengers this year. Grandview Road will finally be receiving a walkway that residents have petitioned for, and the bylaw department’s new security enhancement program will be receiving an additional $25,000 for security upgrades.
City council originally had $191,000 earmarked for operating costs at McLean Mill this year, but council voted on Monday to change this to $126,000 based on a proposal from the McLean Mill Society. Council moved the remaining approximately $65,000 to a reserve fund.
The highest-cost item on the city’s supplementary projects list is $289,000 for policing. $114,000 of this will pay for the addition of a Community Policing Coordinator, which will free up one RCMP member to get “boots on the ground.” Council decided to adjust this budget line in 2019 to only $57,000, as the city will be hiring the Community Policing Coordinator mid-year.
“I don’t think we’re right there to hire someone tomorrow,” said Solda. “We don’t know what the picture looks like yet.”
Council agreed to put the savings into a reserve fund that council will be able to access once their strategic planning is done. Councillor Ron Paulson voted against this, stating that the new position is needed immediately.
Minions said on Monday that the 2019 budget year has been difficult without a strategic plan, but council set public safety and infrastructure renewal as initiatives. Last year, the city spent $823,000 out of general revenue on capital projects, and this year council is on track to spend $998,000.
“That’s up over 20 percent and I think that is a huge win for the city in terms of how we’re prioritizing our infrastructure,” said Minions.