City of Port Alberni eyes five-percent tax increase for 2018

Council looks at infrastructure projects

The city of Port Alberni could be going over its annual set tax increase of three percent in order to complete a number of supplementary projects.

A special budget meeting on Thursday, Feb. 1 ran for almost three hours as councillors deliberated over a number of options on the draft supplementary projects list.

One of the biggest items was a more than $200,000 cost for a bylaw services department, while $151,000 went towards the McLean Mill for capital projects, operations and railway insurance.

Other items were included as a matter of safety, such as $75,000 for Blair Park resurfacing and drainage repair and $71,000 for city hall renovations.

Council also agreed to spend $40,000 on a Work Yard Risk Assessment, which came out of the Coastal Response Exercise as a recommendation because the works yard is in the tsunami inundation zone. City CAO Tim Pley said the cost of moving the works yard could be in excess of $10 million, and the city will be more eligible for grant funding if they can demonstrate there is a safety need.

Council also put $25,000 from general into a building security incentive program, which could include measures such as cameras, deadbolts and lighting for residential and commercial buildings. An additional $25,000 was put into Millstone Park for signage and lighting, which will be supported by a $50,000 grant to finish refurbishment of the bank at the park.

But after the available $809,624 from general revenue had been put towards these projects, council was still left with one major infrastructure project: improvements to Sixth Avenue, from Melrose Street to Bruce Street, which would cost $280,000 for paving and $150,000 for storm and sewer.

“I think we’re going to end up in a very similar position this year as we did last year with our budget, where we intended to heavily focus on infrastructure renewal and we really didn’t end up doing that,” said Councillor Sharie Minions.

Last year, council projected spending $930,000 on infrastructure, but only ended up spending $708,000. This year, the city is supposed to spend $1.2 million on infrastructure renewal.

Minions agreed that the projects that had been voted on were good projects.

“I just think we’re losing sight of what we’re telling the community we’re doing,” said Minions. “Three percent is probably not a reasonable target for us to stick to. We’re either going to stick to three percent or we’re going to do the things that need to get done.”

Public works manager Wilf Taekema said he wasn’t sure if the Sixth Avenue project could be completed in 2018.

“We certainly endeavour to [get everything done in one year],” said Taekema. “There are things out of our control.”

He added that it may get pushed later in the year due to weather and resources.

At the end of the meeting, Councillor Chris Alemany made a motion to go over the proposed budget and approve $430,000 for the Sixth Avenue project.

“Whether it’s completed this year or next year is an operational issue,” he said. “It’s quite irrelevant. Our purpose is to set a five-year plan.”

He added that in the past, council tended to push big projects to “sometime in the future” when things got expensive.

“Why don’t we move away from what we’ve done in the past and simply stay the course with what we’ve said, which is to increase infrastructure spending?” he said.

Council voted to approve the additional expenditure for 2018, but Mayor Mike Ruttan expressed his disappointment.

“There’s no way I would have gone with all the other decisions that we made had I known that that’s where we were going to go,” he said. “To me, it seems that it was clear that we weren’t going to be able to get to it in 2018, and there was no point in considering it. I’m disappointed because I think that we’re heading in the wrong direction.”

Minions said that she is personally not ready to support this budget for the rest of the year, and council agreed to take more time to consider revisions.

Although council doesn’t have to give three readings to the budget until March 26 to meet the May 15 deadline, all seven councillors will not be back together until April.

Another budget meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 19 (a time has not been determined). The public is welcome to attend.

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