Nanaimo city councillors moved one step closer to reaching their goal of limiting a tax increase to two per cent as part of the city’s financial plan.
During a special council meeting held at the city’s service and resource centre on Monday morning, councillors agreed on a number of measures in order to reduce the proposed property tax rates in the 2018-2022 financial plan.
Councillors have been going through the budget process since October, when the first draft budget was presented. Monday’s special council meeting comes after the financial plan amendment bylaw failed on first reading during a council meeting last week, when councillors made it clear to staff that they wanted to see the property tax rate increase for 2018 be lowered to two per cent.
Among the measures councillors agreed upon included eliminating a number of high-ranking city staff positions from the budget, including a director of communications and a manager of treasury and risk. Councillors, at a meeting later in the day, agreed to use $450,000 of last year’s surplus used it to reduce the 2018 tax rate, according to Laura Mercer, the city’s deputy financial officer, who said the property tax rate is now at a 2.08-per cent increase.
Coun. Ian Thorpe, who made the motion to remove the communications position from the budget, said although he previously supported the inclusion of a communication director, he felt that its removal was one way to reduce the property tax rate, adding that he would support the inclusion of a communications director or manager in future budgets.
“I see it as one small step we can take to reduce the budget for this year, but in the future I definitely would support a director of communications, although I am not sure it needs to be someone at a director level,” Thorpe said.
However, Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay disagreed with the idea of not retaining a communications director.
“It is absolutely ludicrous to me that a corporation this size will not have someone to manage communications, both inbound and outbound,” he said.
Councillors also agreed to axe the chief operations officer position from the financial plan. The position had previously been held by Brad McRae, who was fired earlier this year. McRae has since launched a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal claiming that his rights were violated and that he was fired without cause.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong questioned whether it was a good idea to remove the position from the budget, given that McRae has a complaint filed against the city.
John Van Horne, the city’s human resources manager, said it is hard to know whether the tribunal would order the chief operations officer position reinstated if councillors were to remove it from the budget. He said tribunal cases take a long time and that the case before them would likely last beyond 2018.
“I would suggest that, that issue will be so far down the road that for your current budget year, that’s not going to be an issue,” he said.
All three positions that were eliminated came with an annual salary of more than $100,000. Councillors must pass the financial plan by May 15.