It was an evening of choices and consequences at the city’s public presentation of the proposed 2015 financial plan on Feb. 25 at Echo Centre.
Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan said he was enthused by residents’ understanding that in order to beautify the city and continue delivering essential services the city would have to increase spending.
Ruttan said that more people than he would have guessed chose to spend more money even if it raised their property taxes.
Following weeks of departmental budget presentations, the city held the public input session at Echo Centre in an attempt to gauge residents’ opinions on the proposed financial plan for 2015.
“We’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of months thinking about the budget for the city of Port Alberni and thinking about the best way to share with the city the kinds of issues that we’re wrestling with as a council,” Ruttan said.
He added that the public budget session was designed to provide “two-way education.
“We’re hoping to educate the city about some options that we’re looking at as a council and we’re hoping that you will educate us about the kinds of choice you would like us to make on your behalf.”
Ruttan and city manager Ken Watson presented three versions of a possible city budget.
“One that shows a decrease in property tax and the consequences of making that choice, one that shows essentially a stand pat budget which is just a tiny little increase, and one that shows a much larger increase that addresses some significant needs that we have as a city… about 18 per cent.”
Some options for reducing city spending were going to only bi-weekly waste collection as opposed to the current weekly schedule for an annual savings of $150,000 and discontinuing Sunday bus service to save $45,000 each year.
Options that would increase the city’s spending included adding another full-time bylaw enforcement officer at an annual cost of $85,000, replacing the planter boxes on Johnston Road at a cost of $25,000 for installation and $10,000 annual for upkeep, developing Canal Beach and adding a pier for a cost of $250,000 and adding kitchen and yard organic waste curbside collection at an annual cost of $250,000.
Some options, like switching the city’s streetlights to LED lights at a cost of $100,000 per year for two years, had a return on investment. New LED streetlights would pay for themselves in seven years.
Residents were then given an opportunity to discuss their ideas with council and management at a series of roundtable discussions.
The session ended with the public being given three sticky notes to jot down three discussion points from the meeting and to rank them from one to 10, with one meaning they disliked the idea and 10 indicating that they were in favour.
While the public is encouraged to attend regular council meetings to offer their input on the budget and other issues, two special meetings will be held on March 9 and 23 at 3 p.m. to give the public a chance to provide council and management with budget-specific input. A budget survey is also available on the city’s website at www.portalberni.ca.