Port Alberni city council to ‘stay on course’ for five-year budget plan

Next budget meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 29 at 6 p.m

Port Alberni city council is planning to “stay the course” for this year’s five-year draft financial plan, sticking to the same figures as the 2017-2021 plan.

In this draft, all departments except three (police, fire department and economic development) will be held to one percent increases in 2022, keeping to five percent over five years.

The draft also includes proposed annual taxation increases of three percent for residential taxpayers.

City council last year elected to shift its reliance on industrial tax revenues to a focus on infrastructure renewal, through a gradual redirection of heavy industry tax revenue to infrastructure reserve funds.

In 2017, the city projected spending $930,000 on infrastructure, but in the end, only spent $708,000. Most of that money went back into operations, instead.

“We actually declined last year the money that goes into infrastructure,” said city CAO Tim Pley. “Which is obviously not the direction we wanted to go.”

One of the city’s most expensive departments, policing, will see a five year net increase of $563,930, or 8.5%.

Last year, council determined that the city experiences a policing “surplus” that is actually an under expenditure of revenue, largely because of temporary vacancies. The money goes back into the city and is put into a reserve fund for major policing costs. Council voted to use this surplus to pay for an additional RCMP member, and also to remove the cap on the reserve fund. The city now pays for 34 RCMP members but only budgets for 32, relying on that surplus to pay for the extra two members.

“We can do that safely because we have one million dollars in a reserve fund,” said Pley.

This draft budget also shows the reduction of one RCMP member in 2019, bringing the total number of officers down to 33.

The engineering and administration budget will be decreasing starting this year, after the city voted last year to redirect 30 percent of the engineering technologists’ costs into the capital budget over a five-year period.

Over the next five years, the city will be reducing consulting services by 50 percent, resulting in a drop from $40,000 to $20,000.

Councillor Sharie Minions was concerned about this reduction. “What does that 20,000 actually represent?” she asked. “It looks great on paper now. But what’s not going to get done because we’re cutting that budget in half?”

“It takes away our flexibility,” said Pley.

The reduction will reduce council and staff’s ability to make quick decisions on projects, such as a heavy truck count.

The Fire Department will see the largest rise, with a five year net increase of $443,155 or 13.7%.

Although Heritage and Culture saw a jump in costs in 2017, this was largely because of funding the city approved for McLean Mill. 2018-2022 is projected to see a decrease of $167,181, or 25.6%.

However, McLean Mill Society director Bill Collette was in council chambers last Monday to ask for an additional $25,000, bringing the mill’s budget to $200,000 on the operational side. This is still an 11 percent drop from last year’s ask.

“Our intent always was to drop it annually,” said Collette.

The next budget meeting, scheduled for Monday, Jan. 29 at 6 p.m., will feature an e-town hall format with opportunities for members of the public to voice their opinions, suggest new ideas and ask questions.

Another meeting on Monday, Feb. 19 will feature roundtable discussions with city managers. Other meeting dates are to be determined, although final approval of the budget will take place on Apr. 9. All meetings will be open to the public.

The draft budget, as well as Pley’s budget presentation, is available to view online.

elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

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