City of Port Alberni sticks to three percent

City council has proposed an annual increase of three percent for residential taxpayers

Following recommendations from city staff, Port Alberni city council has proposed an annual increase of three percent for residential taxpayers, instead of five.

After a lengthy budget discussion on Thursday, Feb. 1, council was considering spending $400,000 over the proposed 2018 budget in order to complete the second half of a major infrastructure project on Sixth Avenue.

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

Councillor Denis Sauvé said on Monday, Feb. 19 that there had been no intent by council to go over the three percent when they approved the Sixth Avenue project: the intent was only to put money into infrastructure.

“We haven’t [made] that much of a dent to deal with our aging infrastructure,” he said.

Councillor Chris Alemany agreed, “The biggest goal was to ensure that capital spending was increased. We need to get back up to a sustainable number.”

Councillors Jack McLeman and Ron Paulson, as well as Mayor Mike Ruttan, voted against the Sixth Avenue project, concerned with cost and staff’s ability to finish the project in 2018.

Other councillors believed that it does not matter if the project is finished this year. “We need to commit the funds,” said Councillor Sharie Minions.

She pointed out that council would only be spending $291,000 on infrastructure renewal from taxes without this project. “The longer we put it off, the more expensive it’s going to get,” she said. “[We’re] not maintaining what we already have.”

On Monday, City CAO Tim Pley brought forward a list of projects that could be altered in order to avoid going over budget.

First, the Alberni Valley Curling Club asked council in 2017 for $40,000 in support of a grant application to replace their aging ice plant. This money was included in the 2018 budget. The Curling Club was unsuccessful in the grant application, and has asked that the $40,000 be reallocated to the 2019 budget, so they can apply again.

In 2017, council also allocated $125,000 from the carbon fund and $50,000 from general revenue to replace the Multiplex’s 17-year-old chiller. However, prices received from an RFP process were considerably higher than budgeted for, and due to equipment delivery timelines, the city has now missed the window of opportunity to replace the chiller.

Parks, recreation and heritage director Willa Thorpe said the chances of a chiller failure in the meantime are “slim to none.” The chiller, she said, is 17 years old, but has a 20-year range.

“There’s no reason in my mind to expect a catastrophic failure,” she said.

The chiller project will be added to the 2019 capital budget instead, and a new figure will be brought forward later this year.

Another project is the Argyle Water Main (17th to 21st Ave), with $100,000 coming from general revenue for paving. A review of the project revealed that the paving portion can be paid from Water Reserves, since only part of the pavement will be affected.

$100,000 had also been allocated for a pathway on Grandview Road, but council instead agreed to undertake engineering work this year to determine a design, location and reliable cost estimate for the 2019 draft budget.

Lastly, staff recommended allocating $111,000 from Gas Tax funds to capital work. $71,000 will remain in the Gas Tax reserve in case a capital project incurs unforeseen costs.

“All this frees up $401,000,” summarized Pley. “Which would address that overcommitment.”

Council directed staff to prepare a draft of this budget, sticking to only a three percent increase.

Council also agreed to give early budget approval to McLean Mill, so that rail maintenance can take place before the season starts, and the new bylaw enforcement department, so that the hiring process can begin.

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