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City’s rising costs causing tax increase, say Nanaimo councillors

Questions and conspiracy theories voiced at budget-focused e-town hall meeting
City council and staff faced questions over rising taxes, along with some topics not related to the city budget, at an e-town hall meeting Monday, Dec. 4. (News Bulletin file photo)

We’re all in this together, suggested Nanaimo city council members, as they answered questions about the budget at an e-town hall meeting this week.

The meeting Monday, Dec. 4, at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre drew queries from residents in the auditorium or following along from home. The topic was the draft 2024-28 financial plan and how the city spends tax dollars, though a number of the questions were off-topic.

One audience member asked about the potential eight per cent property tax increase, and wondered what the city was doing to tighten its belt as households struggle with high mortgage interest rates, food and housing prices.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said like everyone else, the city is also struggling with rising costs.

“Three or four years ago, we could have built a sidewalk for $300 a metre. It’s now between $2-3,000,” she said. “These are huge increases. Like, when we talk about increases to homeowners, we’re facing the same increases and sometimes even more.”

Armstrong explained that projects that were budgeted just two years ago are now several million dollars over what they were originally budgeted for because of cost overruns that are beyond the city’s control and some projects and new staff positions have been deferred or cut back.

“There could still be more cuts before the final budget comes in and we’re trying to do that,” she said.

Bill Sims, the city’s general manager of engineering and public works, said the problem is shared by communities across the country. Materials and supplies, such as fuel, asphalt and services cities purchase, are fixed costs that can’t be avoided to maintain operations.

“It’s always a challenge when you want to try and think about cutting services,” he said. “We have pressure, on one hand for more and more services … and projects, and on the other hand, we have this fiscal constraint. Quite frankly … we can’t build as much sidewalk. We can’t repair as much sewer pipe, etc., just because of the costs. We’re trying to keep the costs in a reasonable line, not double our budget every year.”

Coun. Tyler Brown suggested that part of the problem is the city’s growth is outpacing the development cost charges fees it is taking in.

“Now, that money will be made up over time, however, the infrastructure upgrades that are needed are being triggered far earlier than anticipated … it’s an additional factor that putting a lot of pressure on our budgetary items,” he said.

Asked about how the city justifies increasing taxes higher than the rate of inflation, Mayor Leonard Krog said the inflation rate is often higher for items the city buys than for typical consumer goods. He cited a water main rupture on Bowen Road in 2020 that serviced the hospital district.

“That pipe that you saw for the midtown water project is $500 a foot, not installed,” he said.

Council was asked why the city funds the Nanaimo Prosperity Corporation, questioning that arm’s-length body’s measurable benefits to date.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said beyond one dedicated staff member, Nanaimo has “lacked a concerted effort to focus on economic development” since the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation was dissolved in 2016.

“Economic prosperity means attracting money to our city, attracting businesses to our city, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “We’ve just barely gotten this organization off the ground and I am willing to certainly give it a chance to prove itself and see what it can do for our community.”

READ ALSO: Projected tax increase climbs to 8% as City of Nanaimo works on budget

Further off-topic, an audience member who asked how much funding the city receives from the World Economic Forum and United Nations since the city was “implementing a WEF and UN strategic plan and doughnut economic system.”

Krog, appearing somewhat exasperated, replied that neither the city or council receives donations from the WEF and that its operating revenues come from taxation and user fees.

“The concept that this city and its council is somehow responding to – the politest thing I can say is exaggerated garbage … that is out there in many social media circles is just silly,” the mayor said.

That question was followed by one about whether intersection smart cameras were equipped with facial recognition software to spy on the population.

Armstrong, a retired RCMP sergeant, replied that as a former police officer, she wished they had that technology, but they don’t and the privacy laws of Canada prevent its use.

Sims explained that the cameras atop intersection traffic signals are sensors that only have ability to tell a pedestrian from a cyclist or a vehicle. The information gathered from them improves traffic signal operations, allows pedestrians to trigger walk signals or vehicles to trigger left turns as they approach intersections.

“That’s just using intelligent data gathering to make the city run smoother and better,” he said.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo eyeing 6.4% tax increase as budget talks begin

Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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