FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — City Council and City staff have met again to discuss the Operating Budget and 2016 – 2020 Financial Plan. This follow multiple meetings between Council and Staff regarding the budget.
Council felt it would be in the best interest of many residents who are feeling the tough economic times, and directed Staff to reduce the tax increase a few times to achieve a rate Council felt was just right. A tax increase of 0.98 per cent was finally agreed upon, down from 3.98 per cent proposed by staff initially.
The City’s General Manager of Corporate Services Mindy Smith ran through the presentation, and echoed those concerns.
“It’s important to have our taxes affordable to the community, but this time it’s important to recognize the slowdown in our economy,” she said.”
Staff recommended several motions to Council, the first of which was to reduce the 3.98 per cent municipal CPI tax rate increase for an average single family dwelling to 0.98 per cent in the 2016 budget — a move that would be funded from a temporary reduction in services of $580,000, and a permanent reduction in the operating budget of $270,000.
Staff also recommended the ratio for the other classes of properties remain consistent with the 2015 budget, that $580,000 of the $660,000 reduction be returned to the budget in 2017 and 2018 at $290,000 — or about one per cent — per year, that the funds from non-tax revenues be applied to the infrastructure gap, and that staff be authorized to proceed with the preparation of the 2016 – 2020 Financial Plan Bylaws.
Mayor Lori Ackerman opted for Staff and Council to discuss the move to takes $580,000 of the $660,000 reduction and return it to the budget within the next few years to be discussed in 2017. She also took issue with the fourth recommendation, as Council had previously discussed funds not being used for infrastructure.
“I understand the argument for putting money into a infrastructure gap,” said Mayor Ackerman. “But I think there’s a very solid reason from Council indicating it wouldn’t go into that.”
The other three recommendations were carried.
Smith highlighted $32 million in new and renewed infrastructure in the 2016 budget – for which a lot is in transportation, but $2.4 million of it being the City’s investment in the new elementary school’s gymnasium. She also acknowledged that this is the third year in a row the City of Fort St. John has reduced tax rates.
The City hoped a new construction tax revenues would be applied to reduce the property tax rate for single family dwellings from 3.98 per cent to 1.98 per cent. Unfortunately, the anticipated level of new construction was not realized, so reserve transfers were reduced — from $1 million to $628,000, a reduction of roughly $370,000 — to adjust the tax rate increase to 1.98 per cent.
While an economic outlook was presented, while BC’s GDP is expected to exceed all other provinces in 2016/2017, Smith said looking to the future of economics can be rather hard to pin point.
“As much as we can predict or look to something beyond a year or even beyond tomorrow, we’re not always certain that’s going to happen,” she said. “And if we did, we’d all be investing.”