Expenses looming for Nanaimo taxpayers

NANAIMO – City council passed the first three readings of a financial plan that shows major future costs.

From the Colliery dams to the Mounties, big expenses loom ahead of Nanaimo city council, according to a recent financial report.

Nanaimo city officials took a major step toward approving a 2.5-per cent property tax hike and five-year financial plan last week, passing three readings of its financial and tax rate bylaws.

Combined with services like water and garbage, the average $350,000 home is expected to see just over a $67 jump on their property tax bills this year. Brian Clemens, the city’s director of finance, said the increase is thanks to expenses like the civic election and an effort to bank dollars for future work on park amenities, transportation and civic facilities. The city’s asset management program alone is expected to collect more than $1 million this year.

There are also capital projects, like an $800,000 waterfront remediation, water treatment plant and  work to increase the Millstone Sewer – all among the top five largest projects for 2014.

But this year’s financial plan also forecasts future costs for politicians and taxpayers to consider, from the unknown costs for capital improvements at Nanaimo’s Colliery dams to RCMP staffing. There’s been no decision yet on how much the city will spend on a final solution for the century-old middle and lower Colliery dams, though the city has set aside $1.5 million this year to help with consultation, investigation and pre-design work.

The city also has upcoming protective services expenses. The hiring goal of a five-year RCMP staffing plan, which called for 24 police members and ten support staff, is expected to be met and exceeded by 2018, amounting to an annual staffing cost of $2.8 million and a “fairly expensive proposition,” according to Clemens.

There is also $6.6 million set aside on the books for upgrades to the police station and $2.4 million for a new Hammond Bay fire hall, which will cost $2 million annually to operate. And don’t forget water. Over the next decade expenditures to increase water supply is expected to increase substantially, Clemens said.

The future costs are more challenging than overwhelming for Mayor John Ruttan, who said the hope is to manage increases in way to mitigate the effect on taxpayers. Staff members are watching for ways to handle ongoing expenses and where there might be savings, he said.

“A lot of those costs we are facing are costs that are hard to avoid,” Ruttan said. “That is the challenge. Water resources, filtration and all those issues are something that as a community we have to face.”