While the City of Prince Rupert’s budget is still over a month from being approved, council is weighing its options to lower the projected half-a-million-dollar operating deficit.
“We’re going to have to do a whole lot of juggling… If we want to make a good decision on the budget we need to look at [all the options],” Councillor Anna Ashley said.
At this point of the process, there aren’t many changes from last year’s budget, aside from a hefty increase in funds allocated for paving projects. There is currently $550,000 allocated to various projects, significantly higher than the $267,000 2012 paving budget.
However, there were a few new requests from city staff to be included in the budget, the first being to hire a half-time clerk at the RCMP detachment to free up investigators from administrative work, allowing more time for investigation. This would come at a cost of $30,000 for the City.
Two requests also came from the civic centre, asking to refill the manager position at $70,000, a position that has been left empty since the last employee retired. The civic centre also asked for an additional $400,000 on top of what the City is already setting aside for renovations for other projects.
But Councillor Joy Thorkelson said the incremental costs aren’t likely to be included this year.
“We keep saying next year, but I believe next year is coming. We just need to keep our body and soul together for another couple of years before next year does come…” she said.
“There’s always been more needs than money, and of course we have not been fortunate enough to see any great change to the tax roll… This might be another year where we hold on and try to get by,” Mayor Jack Mussallem said.
But before being able to get by, the City must cut over $500,000 for the operating budget. Dan Rodin, acting city manager, outlined options that could balance the budget, including reducing 2013’s paving budget by $100,000 to $150,000. This choice has been popular in the past, and would still provide staff with a minimum of $300,000 for miscellaneous paving projects.
Another option, perhaps least likely to have support of residents, is to increase property taxes with one per cent tax increase generates approximately $100,000 in taxes.
“The tax increase we’ve seen over the last six years have been very small, and haven’t met our wages increases in that period at all,” Rodin said.
The City could also decide to reduce the level of services in Prince Rupert, such as cutting back funds spent on maintaining parks, reducing staff at City Hall, or shortening the time the recreation centre or City Hall are open.
Thorkelson said closing City Hall for a day could be catastrophic for city staff, and could potentially mean losing good employees.
“That’s a 20 per cent wage cut to somebody whose working. That would likely mean losing anybody who isn’t riding out one year to retirement. Anyone who is qualified is going to be looking for another job,” Thorkelson said.
Prince Rupert could also choose to take money from the $1.7 million accumulated operating fund surplus from past years, although Rodin warned it wouldn’t be fiscally prudent to use all of these funds.
Council decided to wait and hear what the public thinks on April 15, when the public consultation process of the budget starts, before deciding on any cost-slashing. The budget must be approved by or on May 13.