Barring any final tweaks, the City of Nanaimo will be moving into 2020 with a 5.2-per cent property tax increase.
Councillors concluded their scheduled budget discussions Monday at a special finance and audit meeting and recommended a 5.2-per cent increase go to the council table for three readings on Dec. 16.
“I am very conscious of the amount of this tax increase. This is not what we anticipated last year and as much as we’re projecting smaller increases in the next three years, I think it behooves us to be as careful as we possibly can,” said Mayor Leonard Krog during budget debate at the meeting.
Councillors made a few adjustments to the 2020-2024 financial plan Monday, including adding a deputy city clerk position, eliminating the $100,000 council contingency fund, increasing bylaw enforcement hours, and funding emergency medical responder training for firefighters out of reserves for 2020.
The motion to bump bylaw enforcement officers from 35- to 40-hour work weeks was unanimously supported.
“With the issues that we’re seeing downtown and in other parts of the city and the rising crime, I think it’s one way to help tackle the problem,” said Coun. Sheryl Armstrong, noting that the change would also increase parking enforcement and other municipal bylaw enforcement.
Councillors generally supported the deputy city clerk position, with Coun. Tyler Brown saying policy items “could really benefit from that additional horsepower in that department. They’ve been doing a lot, they’ve been producing a lot, we all benefit from it. Most departments always benefit from a strong clerk’s office because they sort of touch everything.”
Eliminating the council contingency means that more decisions with financial implications that come before council in the coming year would be paid for via the strategic infrastructure reserve.
“If we want to spend too much money we can still do it…” said Armstrong. “Council contingency has $100,000, once that’s gone, the next thing we would do [is] we would just go to the reserve strategic infrastructure fund anyhow. We’ve seen that in the past. We’re always going to find ways, if we really feel strongly about it, to get the cash.”
Brown had also motioned to eliminate a parks co-op student position, but Coun. Zeni Maartman motioned to fund the position and her amendment passed 5-3 with councillors Don Bonner, Brown and Mayor Krog opposed.
Brown’s motion to add the deputy city clerk, eliminate the council contingency and fund EMR training out of reserves in 2020 passed 6-2 with Krog and Coun. Jim Turley opposed.
story continues below
— Nanaimo Bulletin (@NanaimoBulletin) November 26, 2019
A budget-focused e-town hall meeting was held Monday night following the finance and audit meeting earlier in the day. Council was asked why more expenditures couldn’t be deferred to future years.
Krog suggested the comparatively lower tax increases during the previous council’s terms are having “longer-term consequences” now.
“This council, I think, is being much more transparent, forthright and up front in considering tax increases that may be politically unpalatable but are preferable to deferring the decision, leaving it in the lap of some other future council to have to deal with the fact that we didn’t have the political courage to do what is necessary at the present time,” the mayor said.
Coun. Ian Thorpe added that deferring to future years “compounds the problem” and said council has looked at the budget “with a conservative eye” and tried to keep taxes as low as possible.
“Nobody likes to pay taxes, but we all expect the services and facilities that our city provides,” he said.
City finance staff will work toward finalizing the budget for three readings Dec. 16 and adoption in the new year.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Tax increases shouldn’t exceed inflation https://t.co/vpUoIbhKPr
— Nanaimo Bulletin (@NanaimoBulletin) December 1, 2019