The District of Lantzville is one step closer to increasing its budgeted amount for legal fees and it plans on funding it through a tax increase.
Lantzville councillors voted in favour of recommending an increase to the district’s legal budget by an additional $32,000 in 2018 during a committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday night. Councillors also agreed to fund the budget increase through a tax hike of 1.93 per cent instead of from the district’s general surplus account.
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Lantzville’s legal budget for 2018 now stands at $65,000.
Councillors had discussed the district’s legal budget during a committee of the whole meeting Monday night as well. Coun. Will Geselbracht, who made the motion to fund the increase through a tax increase, said based on what he heard at that meeting, if Lantzville needs to increase its legal budget then it should be funded through taxation and residents need to know why.
Coun. Denise Haime said she couldn’t support funding the increase by raising taxes on the residents, adding that there is no evidence to suggest legal fees will be higher in 2018.
“I … won’t support the one per cent increase because I don’t think it is warranted at this point in time. People, I do believe, are speculating. I can say that. We have no idea. Staff have not indicated that legal fees are going to be that high.”
Mayor Colin Haime declared conflict citing ongoing legal action involving himself, councillors John Coulson and Denise Haime and former Lantzville councillors Jennifer Millbank, Graham Savage and Dave Scott. Councillors Haime and Coulson also declared conflict and left the room.
Geselbracht said there has been an increase in legal fees, citing publicly released in-camera minutes from April 24 that the district would pay the legal fees for a lawsuit made by Mayor Haime and councillors Coulson and Haime.
“I won’t speculate, but I am of the view with councillor Swain that our legal fees as a result of that particular lawsuit is going to be increased and I think it is prudent that this council provide for that and that the taxpayers know where their taxes are going,” he said.
Coun. Bob Colclough, who served as acting mayor during the discussion, said while he agreed with the premise of Geselbracht’s motion, he disagreed on the idea of funding the increase with a tax increase.
“My preference would be to fund this from surplus because I think increasing the taxes to do it is in a way punishing the taxpayer,” he said. “They’ve already given us the money. It’s in surplus so we could use it.”
Ronald Campbell, the district’s chief administrative officer, said although it ultimately comes down to the will of council, he advised against the idea of funding increased legal costs through surplus.
“What you are doing is creating a false support for that money,” he said. “Because at some point the surplus is gone and you’ve got to fund a very large legal bill the next year and then you have to go back to the taxpayers and you get the big spikes.”
Geselbracht, a lawyer himself, said the defamation lawsuit brought forward by the Haimes and Coulson will take a long time to sort out. He said if the Lantzville council is going to be transparent, then the public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.
“I feel quite strongly that if we are going to be transparent and let the public know what is happening that the public has to know that they are going to pay,” he said.
Councillors will now have to decide whether or not to adopt their recommendation during a council meeting at a later date.