City council won’t accept more than a two-per-cent tax increase

Financial plan amendment bylaw fails on first reading in 5-4 vote

Nanaimo city council is insisting on no more than a two per cent tax increase.

At a meeting Monday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, councillors voted 5-4 against first reading of a financial plan amendment bylaw that would have raised property taxes by three per cent.

The draft financial plan last fall pencilled in a 2.6-per cent increase, which since then rose to 2.7, 3.18, then back down to 3.01.

“It’s growing and it’s growing and it’s growing and I have a challenge [with that],” said Coun. Jim Kipp, who voted against the financial plan bylaw along with councillors Bill Bestwick, Jerry Hong, Gord Fuller and Bill Yoachim.

Coun. Diane Brennan said she thought the budget as amended was better than it had been the last couple of years.

“It pains me to see us try and build a budget around a pre-conceived number and not in response to the needs of our community,” she said.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he thinks the city needs improved services and facilities and that takes money.

“Yes, everybody likes low taxes and that’s a popular thing to promote, but I feel that we have been treading water for the last couple of years and I have no problem with a 3.01-per cent tax increase,” he said. “I think we need that to fund what we have to provide for the citizens of this community.”

Yoachim disagreed and said every percentage point in reducing taxes helps residents.

“People that I talk with, people in my world do have concern, because they don’t have the deep pockets, maybe, that you or your friends may have,” he told Thorpe.

Kipp took issue with Thorpe’s comments about the city treading water and said there has been plenty of progress.

“We’ve built some facilities, we’ve built some parks, we’ve bought some parks, we’ve spent some money, we’ve built some homeless shelters. We’ve done a lot,” Kipp said. “It’s just the arguing, the in-fighting and the concern with 5-4 votes that’s caused us more problems.”

Bestwick, who made the motion to keep the tax increase to two per cent, said he thinks it can be done in part because he expects the city to have a higher surplus than forecast in 2018. He said he thinks higher taxes for property owners would get passed down to tenants, drawing a response from Brennan who said tax cuts don’t help the poor.

“I’m very worried about the future of Nanaimo with this tea party kind of response to taxes,” she said.

RELATED: Financial plan to be voted on by Nanaimo councillors

The City of Nanaimo now has time pressures to get a financial plan passed by a May 15 deadline and city council will hold a special meeting Monday, April 30.

Fuller said he wants the city’s financial department to recommend options for trimming the budget, “because they’re the ones that know where all those options are. I don’t. I don’t have a clue where all the options are. I can guess.”

Laura Mercer, the city’s deputy chief financial officer, said specific direction from council would be helpful.

“There’s very little options that we can do without changing services and going back and re-jigging capital projects at this point,” she said. “So really your options for reducing the budget are using your surplus or reducing your contribution to the general asset management reserve, which both have implications. You affect your 20-year asset plan if you reduce that, and you increase next year’s tax rate, potentially, if you use surplus.”

Fuller said that information should have been presented earlier in the discussion.

“I would like to see our financial department come up with options, not just telling me, ‘Oh well, sorry, there are only two’ because there are more than two. I know that for a fact,” he said.

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