The Prince Rupert public heard encouragement to review the proposed city budget and five-year financial plan — which includes increases in taxes, at the City Council meeting, on March 14.
Under the proposed 2022 budget, the mill rate will increase by 3.6 per cent.
The public has until early April to provide feedback in numerous ways, such as by letter, email, phone or at upcoming council meetings on March 28 and April 11. The online budget simulation tool, which will be open until April 12, is recommended by city staff.
Once feedback is received, the council will debate about balancing the city’s priorities with those of residents, Mayor Lee Brain said.
“So, it’s very important that you participate in the budget process. I understand it is not the most exciting thing to do. But that is how we set priorities. We have our own list of priorities. We also want to hear your priorities,” the mayor said. So please participate. Please let us know what you think so we can make the best decision possible for you.”
Corrine Bomben, chief financial officer for the city of Prince Rupert, requested a deferral of the direction on the five-year financial plan and related tax rate bylaw until after the public has an opportunity for feedback, and the final BC Assessment numbers are received on March 31.
Property tax is one of the most significant revenue funds for the city each year and is based on the roll released each January by BC Assessment. For 2022, the residential assessment increased on average 31 per cent over the past year, Bomben said. Taxpayers with this increase will see a tax rate hike even if there wasn’t a mill rate increase.
“For those owners with an increase of 31 percent or more, taxpayers would have seen a tax increase even with no mill rate increase proposed. With the proposed increase to balance the budget, homeowners with assessed values that went up more than 26 per cent will see an increase in their municipal bill,” Bomben presented during the meeting.
“With 2021 behind us, we have been able to make more informed projections of the cost of providing service after taking into account all other sources of revenue before using BC assessments values to balance the budget through taxation,” the CFO said.
She said that operating budget requests “make up the significant cost drivers” behind the recommendation to balance the city’s operating budget for the year.
New special projects include an estimated $150,000 for downtown revitalization and asset management funded through dividends, the municipal election of $40,000 funded through taxation, and a project of situation tables costing $43,000 covered by a grant.
Regular operating costs funded through taxation include $430,000 for the fire department, a public works occupancy lease for $310,000, RCMP contract increase in the amount of $380,000, new public washroom maintenance $30,000, a transfer to capital reserves of $400,000.
“After allocating all available funding, the amount needed to balance the budget of $700,000, which is a mill rate increase of 3.63 per cent,” Bomben said.
“We’ve been fortunate enough over the past seven years to have not had an increase of more than 0.5 per cent. Overall, this has more than beat inflation in the same period. Given the fact, our assessed values have increased over time and there have been minimal to zero increases to the mill rate in the same period, our residential mill rate has dropped since 2014.”
The city pays for waste removal, maintenance on play places, information technology, financial and customer support services, communications, fire response and dispatch, engineering, fleet and building maintenance, bylaw enforcement, police detachment, city beautification and economic development.
These services are used every day by everyone in the city, Bomben said, which are paid for through three utility funds and an operating fund.
“Each utility has fees that pay for its function and capital infrastructure. The operating fund is funded through grants, leases, fees and property tax,” she said. “Operating pays for things like security services, recreation, and roads, amongst others. Property taxes do not pay for utilities, and likewise, utility fees do not pay for operating or other utility functions.”
Bomben wants certain financial items noted such as wage, benefit and WorkSafe premium increases which have been offset by savings on capital spending funded in 2021 by taxation, as well as new net taxation from builds and fee increases.
The city will continue to use the COVID-19 safe restart funds to offset impacted revenue losses in some departments still affected by the pandemic, such as the airport ferry. The road paving program will remain the same as 2021 levels. Utility funds are self-funding, increasing rates covering maintenance on the water sanitary and solid waste services.
While the capital budgets and special financial requests were presented to the council in December 2021, there have been some changes and new requests, she explained. The entire budget presentation with changes is available on the city website or on the Rupert Talks site.
The RCMP detachment request decreased to $26.1 million from $30 million. An addition of $520,000 to repair a tear in the landfill cell liner which was damaged in the November wind storms, as well as leasehold improvements are required to the old GM McCarthy dealership of $750,000 for public works use which will be covered through dividends. Roof improvements estimated at $150,000 to the Canfisco Warehouse and street light repair program requires $50,000, which will be funded through dividends, have also been added.
K-J Millar | Editor and Multi-Media Journalist
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