Nanaimo city councillors have come up with a financial plan that they’re comfortable with bringing to the council table for three readings.
Councillors held their final budget-focused special finance and audit committee meeting on Wednesday morning and brought the projected tax increase down to 3.0 per cent after starting the day at 3.6 per cent.
One staff position was trimmed from the budget, but most of the decrease came from a decision to use up to an additional $400,000 from reserves.
Staff recommended pulling from the special initiatives reserve as a way to lower the property tax increase, as both chief administrative officer Jake Rudolph and general manager of corporate services Shelley Legin predict the city’s growth numbers for 2021 will be favourable compared with past projections.
Coun. Tyler Brown said he understands “the optics and the importance to the community” around chasing certain tax increase percentages, but suggested he would have preferred to move ahead with a 3.5-per cent tax increase and then lower it at a later date in accordance with the final growth numbers.
“Folks that I hear from believe it should be zero or one per cent and anything above that is not acceptable in their minds, and it’s OK to have that viewpoint,” Brown said.
Coun. Ian Thorpe voted in favour of drawing from reserves, but did caution earlier in the budget discussions that “there’s going to be, I think, lots of other rainy days ahead and I think this habit of funding from reserves without very careful thought could lead us into future dangers.”
After adding six new staff positions to the budget last week, councillors voted unanimously to remove one of them – a municipal services inspector – at Wednesday’s meeting. Instead, that workload will be factored into project budgets.
Motions to fund firefighters’ emergency medical response training and equipment and a parking shortfall from reserves both passed unanimously.
The motion to use up to an additional $400,000 from the special initiatives reserve to keep the property tax increase to 3.0 per cent passed 6-2, with Brown and Coun. Jim Turley opposed.
Coun. Don Bonner thanked staff and his fellow council members for their work on the budget. He noted that the city is adding three RCMP members, two police support positions, three financial staff members, a project engineer and adding bylaw enforcement hours with a 3.0-per cent tax increase, 2.0 per cent if asset management isn’t factored in.
“I don’t think you’re going to find any municipality in this part of the world doing it for that,” he said.
Brown responded it needs to be highlighted that “a bunch of the increase” has been pushed to future years.
“I think the budget works with the numbers, but I’m under no illusion that money has been created from nowhere,” Brown said.
Three readings of the 2021-25 financial plan bylaw will be on the agenda at a council meeting Dec. 21.