Nanaimo’s new council says this year’s budget and its potential 5.08-per cent property tax increase are a part of rebuilding the city.
Councillors answered taxpayers’ questions tonight, Dec. 10, at an e-town hall meeting about the preliminary 2019-2023 financial plan.
Council approved all the finance and audit committee recommendations from last week’s budget deliberations, then added one more staff position to bump up the projected tax increase from 4.97 per cent to 5.08 per cent.
The preliminary budget is to receive three readings Dec. 17, but Coun. Don Bonner and others said council will continue to look at the budget in the new year.
“A number of us want to be able to turn the ship and we’re barely getting to the wheelhouse,” he said. “Once we’ve got our sea legs down, we’re be able to make the decisions and start moving this ship in the direction we want and tailoring our budget for that.”
Coun. Erin Hemmens agreed, saying budgeting has been a difficult process both due to the timelines and because council doesn’t have a strategic plan as a guide.
“As for the nuts and bolts of where we’re going to pull from, what we’re going to cut, what we’re going to grow, this budget is reflective, I think, of being six weeks on the job,” she said.
Bonner said staff has “done a phenomenal job” so far on the financial plan and said he looks forward to continuing conversations both with council and with the general public.
“This budget, for me, and I think speaking for council here, has been really about rebuilding,” said Coun. Ben Geselbracht. “I think property taxes have been extremely low over the last few years because insufficient funds have been put into asset management, services have been cut, for example like bylaw enforcement … services that the community expects.”
Coun. Zeni Maartman criticized the previous council for its budgets including one “negative budget” year where the tax increase was zero while factoring in a one-per cent increase to asset management.
“By not being fiscally responsible, they have put this council in the position that if we want to get back to just status quo before we start making our plans, we actually have to increase property taxes appropriately,” she said.
Coun. Tyler Brown added that he’s impressed with “staff’s ability to achieve what they have achieved over the last several years considering the lack or resources they were given.”
The one new staff position added to the preliminary budget Monday is that of an active and sustainable transportation coordinator. Brown had motioned to add the position at a finance meeting last week and it was defeated on a tie vote, but passed 6-3 on Monday.
“I would like to see a position that sets the tone that this type of development of infrastructure is supported in our city,” Brown said. “It ensures all modes of transportation are part of our collective ethos and so that we can have a healthier, more equitable, more green city.”
Councillors Jim Turley, Ian Thorpe and Sheryl Armstrong voted against adding the position.
Also of note, Turley made a motion to stagger in an increase of four firefighters over three years instead of adding all four in 2019, but no other councillor seconded his motion.