Early budget talks peg Nanaimo tax rate hike at 2.4 per cent

NANAIMO – A proposed tax hike would see the average household with a $348,363 assessed value pay $41.75 more next year.

Nanaimo homeowners are facing a 2.4-per cent tax hike, thanks to union and RCMP contracts, asset management and a new communications specialist, as city politicians begin budget discussions.

Residents avoided a tax hike last year, but in the first go-round of the 2017 budget, city staff proposed an increase that would see the average household with a $348,363 assessed value pay $41.75 more next year. Water, sewer and garbage rates are also set to increase, tallying $82.97 on that same home bill if the draft budget goes ahead, city documents show.

The new budget and proposed five-year financial plan was laid out for city councillors at the inaugural finance and audit committee meeting last week when Coun. Bill Bestwick was elected chairman. The committee’s job is to oversee and review annual and long-term financial plans.

Among key drivers for next year’s hike are contracts, including $854,749 for RCMP and $287,244 for the International Association of Fire Fighters; $964,125 for asset management – the money set aside to maintain infrastructure – and $372,150 for debt the city plans to accumulate to address access to the south industrial waterfront. The city also plans to hire a new communications specialist, with a $77,145 budget, adding to the three-person communications team.

Asked if a zero-per cent tax increase is possible, chief financial officer Victor Mema said, “we would have come in with a zero if it were possible.”

“It takes a lot of savings,” he said. “Last year we were lucky to have the organizational re-structuring and this year I don’t see that opportunity, but hey, the budget discussion is still ongoing.”

Last year’s zero-per cent tax increase was an attempt to show the city could operate and function with the money it had, according to Bestwick, who said he’s never been set on a zero-per cent increase.

“I don’t mind increasing taxes and I don’t think the people do either, so long as they know where the money is being spent and what the money is being spent on and that we aren’t frivolous with our spending and we’re not wasting the taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” said Bestwick, who believes an investment is needed in the community. “If that means we need to increase taxes in order to do that, then we need to know that information and we need to know it well in advance. I’d like to see us start planning our future.”

Politicians still have core review recommendations to consider, which include the potential for $1.7 million in annual savings and $2.75 million in potential one-time savings. In 2017, the city has already planned to spend $206,500 on the core review, for initiatives such as a parking strategy for the hospital area and Old City Quarter, and a parks and recreation master plan, an e-mail from Mema shows.

The five-year plan for 2017-21 also lays out investment for council’s strategic priorities, such as $990,000 for the Georgia Avenue greenway and $200,000 for affordable housing and social wellness strategies.