Nanaimo city council arrived at a budget with which they’re willing to move forward.
At a meeting Monday night, council voted 6-3 to pass three readings of a financial plan amendment bylaw that will set the 2018 property tax increase at 2.08 per cent.
In recent weeks, councillors were able to get the tax increase down from 3.01 by eliminating three potential staff positions and accessing $450,000 from 2017 general surplus.
“We’ve given a bit of a break to the people that have carried the burden forever and ever,” said Coun. Jim Kipp.
Coun. Ian Thorpe voted against the financial plan amendment bylaw, saying he didn’t support using surplus money to trim the tax increase and calling the budget shortsighted and counterproductive for Nanaimo.
“Our city financial staff does not recommend using our reserves to lower the tax rate artificially. It is not considered good practice, is my understanding…” he said. “Of course, this is an election year, so maybe having a lower tax increase this year is more palatable than having a bigger tax increase next year, I don’t know.”
Several councillors debated Thorpe’s argument. Kipp said it’s a falsehood to say the city is using reserves when it’s using surplus and also addressed his colleague’s “election year” comment.
“Google me,” Kipp said. “I’ve been going at this for decades to try and bring some semblance of order and some rules of how this budget’s even put together.”
Coun. Jerry Hong said keeping the tax increase low is something the city is able to do for taxpayers.
“Two per cent or three per cent might not make a big difference, but we’ve got garbage, water, RDN, hospital, you name it. ICBC, B.C. Hydro, every level of government is coming after the pockets of the taxpayer,” Hong said. “So whatever we can do to reduce it year after year, I don’t care if this is an election year or not. This council has worked hard every year to keep the taxes low.”
Coun. Diane Brennan voted against the financial plan bylaw and said when it comes to a city budget, a $2.7-million surplus is reasonable.
“We can’t have any deficits,” she said. “So if you want to get skinny and down to the wire, you’re playing chicken … this is prudent money management.”
She also felt a leaner budget would have a negative impact on city programs and services; Kipp said that argument was “not factual” and Coun. Gord Fuller said Brennan’s concerns could have been brought up long ago.
“I see no point in whining now when we didn’t whine for the last three years…” he said. “We’ve still got a large surplus on top of what [we’ve] used, let’s use [it] occasionally.”
A city staff report indicates that council’s specified changes to the 2018 budget will mean a higher property tax increase next year, but Hong said the city’s surpluses have proven reliable.
“2019 probably won’t be 3.47 [per cent], in case the public thinks that’s the number. That things do change. I just wanted to make that clear,” he said.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong was the other councillor who voted against the financial plan amendment bylaw. Thorpe, Brennan and Armstrong also voted against a related 2018 property tax rate bylaw.