Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)

Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)

City of Nanaimo begins budgeting with 3.4% tax increase as starting point

Special finance and audit committee meetings continue this week

Nanaimo city councillors have a starting point with which to work as they look to create a 2022 budget.

Councillors, at a special finance and audit committee meeting Friday, Oct. 29, got their first look at budget figures for next year, including a potential 3.4-per cent property tax increase. Over the next two weeks, they will make decisions on business cases presented by staff members that could push the increase up to a couple percentage points higher.

Council will be tasked with adopting a financial plan bylaw before Christmas, though more changes will come before they adopt an amended financial plan bylaw and property tax rate bylaw in the spring.

“It goes without saying that we operate in an environment of change. Everything changes all the time it seems…” said Jake Rudolph, the city’s chief administrative officer, at last week’s meeting. “COVID is one extreme example of change forced upon us and we’re working through that, but there are many other things that happen: the economy, our growth, our population changes, technology, legislation, government context and things that involve our partners, as well.”

He said the city’s goal in budgeting is to maintain services and assets and enhance them where possible.

Laura Mercer, the city’s director of finance, told councillors that staff is “considering this a recovery year or a starting-a-new-normal year.”

A 3.4-per cent property tax increase, she said, would amount to an increase of $78 for a typical Nanaimo home assessed at $544,200. On top of that, sewer and water fees are projected to rise four and five per cent, respectively, and sanitation fees are likely to rise at least four per cent, which together would add up to a $42 increase for a typical home.

The most significant increase in the draft budget is City of Nanaimo staff wages and benefits, which are set to increase by $2.74 million in 2022.

“This amount really reflects the return to full staffing at the city,” Mercer said.

She noted that the amount includes wage increases for CUPE workers, firefighters and management and also factors in Beban Pool staff and a full year of salaries for positions added midway through 2021 including some that had been initially funded out of reserves.

The RCMP contract is not yet finalized, but is estimated to cost the city an additional $2.34 million next year. The city has budgeted an extra $959,000 in project expenditures for 2022 to return to pre-pandemic levels, and the draft budget also shows an extra $531,000 transferred to the facility development reserve. There is $430,000 in the draft budget for costs associated with Beban Pool’s re-opening after that facility had zero budgeted funding going into 2021.

On the other side of the ledger, the city anticipates it will take in an additional $1.87 million in aquatic revenue, $672,000 in casino revenue and $378,000 from facility rentals.

Of the business cases not included in the budget, the highest-ticket items are police support staff, ‘geographically targeted’ bike patrol units, a community clean team and an aquatics development plan. Some other potential new staff positions include a parks, trails and natural areas supervisor and a playground maintenance worker.

Last year, councillors settled on a three-per cent property tax increase and accessed reserve funds to limit the increase.

“My impression was that we made good use of reserves during the past year, maybe more than we’ll be able to in future,” said Coun. Ian Thorpe at last week’s meeting.

Councillors will hear more about departmental budgets and business plans at special finance and audit committee meetings this Wednesday and Friday (Nov. 3 and 5), and will be asked to start making budget decisions at a meeting Nov. 10. There will be a budget-focused e-town hall meeting on Nov. 15.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo beginning budget process

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