City of Nanaimo councillors decided not to further trim this year’s property tax increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Council, at a meeting Monday, voted 7-2 to move forward with a 4.5-per cent property tax increase for 2020, which staff had previously adjusted from the 5.2-per cent tax increase adopted earlier this year.
Councillors were also presented with options to reduce the tax increase to 3.8 per cent and 1.0 per cent. Coun. Zeni Maartman noted that the difference between a 4.5-per cent increase and a 3.8-per cent increase amounted to only a $16 difference to a typical household, and said it would be fiscally prudent to stay the course.
“I would feel really responsible if we stuck to the budget … which we can afford for this year, because we are not certain what next year brings,” Maartman said.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong made similar arguments, speculating that 2021 would be a more “difficult” year.
“This year, we’ve been given reprieves – especially business – from the federal government, which will help, which may not be there next year,” Armstrong said. “I think next year people are going to be in even bigger trouble than this year.”
Coun. Ian Thorpe said all levels of government will be looked to for economic stimulus, and said the city will need the cash flow to be able to help in that respect.
“To me, any minor adjustments [to property taxes] this year might look good politically, but I don’t think they’re in the best long-term interests of the city,” Thorpe said. “I think it’s unlikely that any very modest tax relief we could offer would help our local economy recover more than having that money for the city used to create jobs.”
One of the councillors who voted in opposition was Coun. Don Bonner, who favoured using reserve money to cut this year’s tax increase to 3.8 per cent, saying it would set an example.
“Most of us who are having trouble or have lost our job are using up their reserves, what they had in the bank, if they had any,” he said. “And so I think it’s incumbent upon us to do roughly the same thing.”
Also opposed was Coun. Jim Turley. He motioned for an amendment to take the Front Street cycle lanes out of the 2020 budget, saying he would prefer they be delayed to a future year when they could be tied into other infrastructure improvements such as public works projects or walkway work.
The amendment to delay the Front Street cycle track failed 7-2, with Turley and Armstrong in favour. The motion to move forward with a 4.5-per cent property tax increase passed 7-2, with Bonner and Turley opposed.
Mayor Leonard Krog indicated he was pleased that council generally agreed on property taxation during the pandemic.
“We are facing the most unusual times,” Krog said. “I don’t think any of us signed on to preside over a council … during the middle of an economic crisis felt around the globe in a pandemic.”