Nanaimo city councillors debate 3.2-per cent tax increase

City’s financial plan discussed at finance and audit committee meeting Wednesday

Homeowners in Nanaimo are facing the prospect of a greater increase to their property taxes than originally predicted.

Nanaimo city councillors were presented with an updated version of the city’s 2018-2022 financial plan that calls for a 3.2-per cent increase in residential property taxes during a special finance and audit committee meeting on Wednesday at the Shaw Auditorium. Council had previously adopted a provisional budget back in January that had included a 2.7-per cent property tax increase.

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Wendy Fulla, the city’s manager of business, asset and financial planning, told councillors that the reason for the additional bump in property taxes is due to various increases in costs and expenses approved by councillors.

“The key changes that have occurred are that we’ve added $100,000 for the capital project management framework, this was a recommendation of the Deloitte report that we presented to you in the fall,” she said. “We’ve added $20,000 for the community engagement task force, we’ve added $30,000 annually for the Nanaimo Art Gallery annual operating grant increase you approved. We’ve added $336,965 for response to health, social and safety issues, which you recently approved and we had increases in wages and benefits of $224,218.”

Fulla said based on the current financial plan, which has yet to be adopted, homeowners will, on average, pay an extra $62 in property taxes this year.

“The average household pays $2,011 in property taxes,” she said.

However, Fulla said that number could eventually rise because the financial plan does not include the requisition from the Regional District of Nanaimo and the city also has yet to sign a new CUPE Local 401 deal.

Councillors did not vote on referring the 2018-2022 financial plan to a regular council meeting for debate. Instead, councillors will discuss the budget at a future finance and audit committee meeting.

During the meeting, councillors discussed a number of items pertaining to the financial plan, including RCMP policing costs and the vacant communications manager position, which they eventually agreed to include in the 2018 budget. Coun. Jim Kipp said he had “number of outstanding” issues that have cost the city money, citing soil in parks. He said he wants reports on those issues because it’s hard for him to make budget decisions without information.

“When do I get the reports on those types of things and when can I balance that with budgeting, because I have a heck of a time supporting budgets when I don’t get information,” he said.

Kipp later questioned Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay’s communication.

“You are supposed to communicate … I am left up in the air wondering what we are doing,” he said, later calling the whole thing a “waste” and leaving the room for a short period of time.

Councillors’ discussion also focused heavily around a section of the presentation that showed a $855,208 budget for the chief administrator’s office in 2018, an increase of 123.3 per cent from last year.

Fulla said the increase in the CAO office’s budget was due to the decision to hire in-house legal counsel at a cost of $202,000, adding that an additional $205,000 has been allocated for external legal expenses and $85,000 has been allocated to deal specifically with HR-related issues. She also said that the city solicitor position was never included in the provisional budget, that the position has not been filled and that the increase did not contribute to an increase in property tax rates.

Coun. Diane Brennan later made a motion calling for the removal of the city solicitor position, adding that she’d like council to see a business plan regarding the need for that position. Although some councillors spoke in favour of Brennan’s motion, it was ultimately decided to have the motion referred back to staff.

“I would like to see it removed completely, with a business case made for 2019,” she said, adding that she didn’t believe it would be an issue because the position hasn’t even been filled yet.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she did have a concern about in-house legal services, saying the city still has to use a lot of other legal services.

“I would like to see the business case because in previous discussions I had with the CAO, she was against it, so now I would like to know why she is for it,” Armstrong said. “So, I would like to see the research that was done into it before I make a decision to remove it or keep it.”

Coun. Jerry Hong says if a business case is made for one position, business cases should be given for all new positions, while Coun. Jim Kipp said he liked the idea of having an internal lawyer for the city.

“I think it is a good position to have for a corporation nowadays,” he said.

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