Prince Rupert’s 2024 budget which includes a 7.7 per cent property tax increase is one step away from being official.
Following extensive discussion at the Nov. 27 meeting, council passed first, second and third readings. Adoption is on the agenda for the Dec. 11 meeting.
Only Councillor Gurvinder Randhawa voted against the finalized Five-Year Financial Plan, which was presented by Chief Financial Officer Corrine Bomben.
Two additional motions were included in the plan, brought forward from the Committee of the Whole. City staff is now instructed to look into ways of funding the 4th Avenue staircase and to consult with Lester Centre board members on their long-term funding requests.
The meeting was the final opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed budget, although no members of the community attended the meeting.
The city did receive numerous comments via email, telephone and handwritten letters. While some were critical of the potential tax increase, Bomben said most respondents expressed their understanding of the difficult financial position the city is currently facing.
Randhawa enquired whether the City could reduce the 7.7 per cent tax increase by offsetting more costs through the City’s legacy fund. Bomben explained this would only push back costs to the next year.
Councillor Wade Niesh, who expressed his long-running distaste toward tax increases, praised the proposed budget, saying residents need infrastructure improvements. Along with Councillor Nick Adey, Niesh also noted that the city’s proposed tax increase was low compared to many other B.C. municipalities.
“For years I was strongly against raising taxes, because I think nine years ago we were well above the average. It took us quite a few years… to get us back to the average,” Niesh said.
“I look at this budget increase as actually giving people what they’re wanting and that’s water. They want to be able to turn their tap on.”
A percentage of the proposed tax increase would be allocated to hiring and giving raises to city staff, something Councillor Barry Cunningham said is needed.
“We have to honour those commitments we have made to our workers,” he said. “They got modest increases in their contract this time, they were actually helping us out.”
Cunningham also pointed out that some city staff had worked extremely long hours, while others, such as corporate administrator Rosamaria Miller, have filled multiple positions recently.
If adopted at the Dec. 11 meeting, the budget will be finalized months ahead of the normal schedule, the reason for which Mayor Herb Pond has previously said is based on the criticality of the water system issue.
A finalized tax bylaw will not be adopted until the spring of next year.