Casino money will help pay for future strategic projects in the Harbour City.
Nanaimo city council decided at a special council meeting Monday to set up a strategic infrastructure reserve, using casino revenue and money from Fortis B.C.
The move, which will see casino and Fortis dollars redirected from general reserves, equates to approximately three per cent in property taxes over four years, according to the City of Nanaimo.
Politicians were unanimous about creating the reserve, which will bank money for new strategic projects like a sports and entertainment centre. But they didn’t agree on what revenue to redirect to fill the pot.
Coun. Ian Thorpe was concerned about calling it a strategic infrastructure fund. At first glance, he said it’s hard not to support putting more money aside for infrastructure they know will be needed.
“But then I see this can provide funding for strategic capital projects, can provide funding for debt reduction, can provide funding for council initiatives, so it’s not entirely in my mind for infrastructure reserve and that causes me some hesitation,” he said. “I personally feel that reserves or surpluses in a certain area should be maintained for that area and Fortis is one example.”
If council had the fund, Coun. Jerry Hong, who supported putting Fortis and casino revenue into the reserve, said in 2020 “future council is going to have money to do something.
“Right now, when we picked our five strategic priorities we didn’t have any money. We don’t have any money to do all those priorities.”
As part of a strategy to limit the impact on property taxes next year, the city plans to reduce the annual budget estimate for the RCMP contract by $700,000, a number a city report says more closely matches the actual annual staffing levels and will reduce recurring annual surplus tied to the contract.
City chief administrative officer Tracy Samra said it’s is not a reduction in service level or money going to the RCMP.
Coun. Diane Brennan said there’s a great deal of suspicion in the community arising from the multiplex and establishment of this fund. She said she suggested to chief financial officer Victor Mema “you could have a fund like that and use the funds to pay down on your current debt, which would then result in not having to go to a referendum and he confirmed that that was correct.”
Tracy Samra, chief administrative officer, said there must be by law a referendum so any suspicion the creation of an infrastructure reserve fund that may build walkways to Departure Bay, bridges, playgrounds and different projects identified in the strategic plan update is separate and distinct from building an event centre.
Council agreed to use casino revenue for the fund in a 7-2 vote with Thorpe and Brennan opposed. The vote for put more than $500,000 in Fortis funds into the reserve, starting next year, passed 5-4 with Thorpe, Brennan, Coun. Wendy Pratt and Mayor Bill McKay opposed.