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City of Nanaimo begins budgeting with 3.3% tax increase as a starting point

Special finance and audit meeting being held today, Nov. 25
The City of Nanaimo is working on the 2021-25 financial plan, with a series of special finance and audit meetings this week and next week. (News Bulletin file photo)

The City of Nanaimo is getting started on budgeting in a pandemic.

The city’s finance and audit committee is holding its first special meeting today, Nov. 25, to work on the 2021-25 financial plan.

The city is working with a 3.3-per cent tax increase as a starting point, with one per cent of that an annual increase set aside for asset management. Water, sanitation and sewer user fees are projected to go up 7.5, 5.8 and 4.0 per cent, respectively, so a typical Nanaimo home assessed at $527,000 would see total municipal taxes and user fees go up $132 from $3,110 to $3,242.

“We reduced operating expenditures across the board,” said Shelley Legin, the city’s general manager of corporate services. “Every single [department] was asked to tighten their belts and we took hundreds of small amounts out of the budget across the board.”

Wendy Fulla, manager of business, asset and financial planning, told councillors that the city uses a “modified zero-based budgeting approach” meaning that departmental budgets aren’t rolled over from one year to the next and departments start with a blank sheet and calculate the resources needed to deliver on business plans and current service levels.

“We debated over $50 items,” Fulla said. “That’s how hard staff have worked and managers have worked to bring in a budget that can maintain the service levels of the city and still try to keep the property tax as low as possible.”

Nanaimo received a $6.7-million safe restart grant for local governments, which it can use for a range of purposes including revenue shortfalls, facility operations, emergency response, protective services, IT costs, social services and more.

A $1.07-million increase to the RCMP contract this year is one of the most significant budget drivers. There is also a $470,000 increase to wages in benefits, which Fulla said is less than usual, noting that wages and benefits just within the parks, recreation and culture department are down about $700,000 from 2020.

“We are using less permanent auxiliaries, we’re using less temps and casuals, we’re using less contracted employees,” she said.

Corporate insurance is going up $149,000 due in part to a Municipal Insurance Association liability rate increase. Security services are going up $116,000, with the public works yard and city parks some of the areas of focus. The Vancouver Island Conference Centre will require $103,000 in net costs. Animal control services costs will go up $100,000 and there is $85,000 in the budget for art gallery improvements.

Revenues from pools, arenas, recreation facility rentals and rec programs are expected to decrease $2.95 million, partly offset by operational savings. Casino revenue is budgeted to decrease $825,000.

On the other side of the ledger, the city will fully pay off the debt on the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre by the end of 2020, removing that $390,000 line item from the budget. As well, staff have found savings of $988,000 on project expenditures.

“Staff undertook this by delaying some projects, we cancelled some projects and they also reduced some projects in scope,” Fulla said.

As budgeting continues, the finance and audit committee will consider 14 business cases not included in the draft financial plan. Those include a manager of social planning, a municipal services inspector, a project engineer, an indigenous engagement specialist, a manager of sustainability and a buyer, as well as two new RCMP positions: digital forensic technician and major case file specialist. Staff will also bring forward a business plan for a feasibility study for a police mental health outreach team.

Special finance and audit meetings will continue Nov. 27, 30 and Dec. 4 leading up to an e-town hall meeting Dec. 7.

READ ALSO: Lantzville moving forward with 7.6-per cent property tax increase

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About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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