One-per cent tax hike receives initial Nanaimo council approval

NANAIMO – City council took the first steps to pass this year's budget on Monday.

Residents can expect a one-per cent tax hike after councillors reluctantly took the first steps toward approving a new financial plan.

Nanaimo council passed the first three readings of a five-year financial plan and tax rates bylaw on Monday, increasing the bill for a $350,000 home by just over $44.

The decision wasn’t without hesitation. At least one city councillor wanted to see lower taxes, while others had concerns about budget cuts.

Council axed $744,000 out of the 2015 budget earlier this year to shave 0.8 per cent off the budget, including dollars set aside for five new RCMP members. A new Hammond Bay fire hall has also been delayed until after a core review.

Coun. Diane Brennan, who gave “reluctant” and “lukewarm” support to the budget, called measures taken by council extreme and without adequate consideration given to what the decisions mean now and in the future.

“We’ve delayed the fire hall one more time. This is the fifth year. We have not added to the RCMP when we know some of the challenges that are faced there. We have reduced staff training at a time when we need our staff to be up to speed on whatever we throw at them and … we are delaying reports,” she said. “Just a number of things that we’ve done that I would call extreme measures and not a kind of measured response to what we’re faced with.”

Brennan also said she can’t imagine a core services review will be an easy task, because it will push council into more extreme measures which she finds lamentable.

Councillors Jerry Hong and Wendy Pratt also reluctantly approved this year’s budget. Hong wanted a zero-per cent tax hike and no reductions to the RCMP, while Pratt wished the increase remained at 1.8 per cent and felt time spent on finding ways to cut the budget was “misplaced” when council should be focusing on a core review.

Coun. Ian Thorpe gave his support, but was “disappointed” in some of the cuts made to arrive at this year’s tax increase and had concerns about deferring decisions like hiring extra RCMP.

Coun. Gord Fuller said he thought council did a great job with reductions and had no problem with the budget this year, knowing a core review is coming.

The bylaws passed 8-1, with Coun. Bill Bestwick opposed.

He was unavailable to speak about his vote before press time Wednesday.

This year’s tax hike adds to water, sewer and garbage rates for a total $44.22 increase for a $350,000 home. Final adoption of the budget happens May 4.