Councillor proposes late cuts to budget

NANAIMO – Last minute proposal calls for $2.2 million in reductions, includes reducing base salaries for staff, council.

hrew a wrench into the budget approval process Monday by issuing a list of cuts he recommends that could save taxpayers millions of dollars.

Earlier this year, Coun. Bill Bestwick put forward a motion to reduce the overall $175-million budget by five per cent across the board in an effort to reduce taxpayer fatigue.

That was voted down 6-3 by council.

At the time, the projected residential tax rate increase was 3.3 per cent. Because of unanticipated increases in new construction revenue, Nanaimo homeowners now face a 2.9-per cent tax rate increase – about a $55 increase not including sewer, water and garbage service rate hikes – while commercial taxpayers will see an increase of 1.9 per cent and heavy and light industrial rates will decrease by 24.2 per cent. A one-per cent increase to help pay for future infrastructure needs is included in the tax rate increases.

However, Bestwick said Monday he still feels the budget – which increased from $160 million last year – has bloated to a point where taxpayers can no longer keep up.

“The budget is the most important decision we make on an annual basis,” said Bestwick. “With that in mind, I have placed before my colleagues an opportunity to reduce the budget across the board, fairly and equitable to most departments, if not all, a $2.2-million reduction plus whatever the one-per cent reduction of base salaries for exempt staff and council would work out to be.”

Bestwick’s suggestions, which were supported by councillors Jim Kipp and Bill McKay, include reducing: RCMP services by $250,000; Nanaimo Fire Rescue by $300,000; public works by $250,000; reducing the parks, recreation and culture budget by $400,000; trimming the new $65-million water treatment facility by $250,000; eliminating the city’s strategic relationship position to save $125,000; reducing union exempt staff (management) and council salaries by one per cent; and reducing human resources, corporate services, and the purchasing department by up to $100,000 each.

Other suggestions include eliminating the Boxwood Road connection project to save $1.4 million and redirect $250,000 from the sale of a Dufferin Crescent property to offset taxes.

No explanation was given verbally or on the document why those particular areas were targeted, or how the cuts might affect services and programs.

Council had been ready to pass the first three readings of the 2013 tax rate bylaw Monday, but were caught by surprise by Bestwick’s proposal. Instead, another meeting will have to be squeezed in between Monday’s meeting and the next scheduled council meeting to ensure the bylaw is passed by May 15 as per provincial legislation.

Coun. George Anderson said he was surprised that his colleagues would bring forward a budget proposal at the last minute without prior consultation or collaboration.

“I was disappointed and shocked to see that … one of my colleagues would propose more than $2 million in cuts from our budget. Council does not delegate our responsibilities out to specific council members like they do in the House of Commons, where they have certain ministers to look at things,” said Anderson. “Council is a collaborative team which has to sit down and make these decisions together. My understanding is councillors Bestwick, McKay and Kipp sat down privately and decided they would bring this forward to council and not give us any notice.”

Kipp said percentage-wise, the cuts aren’t that deep.

“It’s two per cent at the most,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like much, we’re just tightening the belt which is something as individuals we all are doing. Much of it can be made up with surpluses.”

Anderson said he feels council is open to all suggestions regarding the budget, but dropping “numbers that were pulled out of the sky with no warning whatsoever” is not a productive way to deliberate the budget.

“When Coun. Bestwick brought up the five per cent reduction I said I would be in favour of doing so if I knew what the cuts were and the impact they’d have,” said Anderson. “But if the cuts are just going to move the costs to future years, that’s not cutting, it’s postponing and letting another generation deal with it.”

Nanaimo’s proposed blended tax rate increase of 1.9 per cent is one of the lowest increases on Vancouver Island.