Nanaimo City Hall. NEWS BULLETIN file photo

Nanaimo council questioned as property tax notices sent out

Citizens ask about tax increase, potential to find efficiencies at city hall

The City of Nanaimo has mailed out tax notices and many residents will see a tax increase, but councillors don’t see a lot of potential cost savings to reduce taxes moving forward.

City council held an e-town hall meeting last week and there were questions pertaining to property taxes and potential efficiencies at city hall.

Council members who spoke on the topic weren’t sure there were many cost savings within city departments.

“I appreciate the suggestion that there are somehow monies to be found, as is the standard political cry of everyone who’s not in office or in government, that we just have to cut a little bit here and a little bit there and the money will magically be found…” said Mayor Leonard Krog. “Annually our staff look at ways of saving money and make proposals and it is up to council to implement them but to imply that somehow there are departments in this city that are operating with excess funds is simply not accurate or fair.”

The mayor said the City of Nanaimo is short a number of “senior positions and managers” and said considering an increasing population, that has created problems for management and operations.

Coun. Ian Thorpe, a second-term councillor, said he agreed with the mayor that staff is operating “in a very lean way,” too lean in his opinion.

“We are constantly looking for ways to save money and run an efficient operation. I don’t think there is waste, or very little waste at all in the way we do things … There is no fat to be trimmed in my opinion,” Thorpe said.

A citizen noted that his or her property taxes had gone up 17 per cent, and Krog explained that the citizen’s property value, as determined by B.C. Assessment, must have risen dramatically and noted that Nanaimo properties on average were assessed 12.8 per cent higher this year.

The city’s financial plan was adopted with a five-per cent property tax increase. Coun. Jim Turley said some of that increase was out of council’s control. He pointed to the employer health tax and increased WorkSafe B.C. premiums, and added that the city also wanted to ensure healthy reserves.

“It’s always a tug-of-war. We’re always getting people [who say], ‘Well, we want this, we want that’ which are all valid points; I’m not diminishing any of them,” Turley said. “But they all come at a cost, so we have to balance what we’re prepared to do year after year, what we figure we can spread over a number of years, and try to keep the tax increase realistic.”

Thorpe said the city collects taxes so it can provide “necessary, basic, valuable services” that residents expect.

“The last couple of years, the city actually decided to impose tax increases that were below the cost of inflation and in fact, last year, we even dipped into our reserve funds to artificially lower the tax increases, which in my opinion was short-sighted,” Thorpe said. “So we’ve had some making up to do. I think keeping it to five per cent for city services this year was actually quite modest.”

According to a city press release, residents of an average home in Nanaimo will pay an additional $99 in city property taxes in 2019.

Property taxes are due July 2.

RELATED: Nanaimo council faces taxpayer questions about budget

RELATED: Nanaimo councillors nudge potential tax increase down

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