FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — Fort St. John residents could see an increase in their property tax rates in 2018, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll see an increase on their actual tax bills.
The City’s General Manager of Corporate Services David Joy presented a draft of the city’s 2018 Operating Budget to the Committee of the Whole Monday, the second of the city’s two budgets. Fort St. John publishes two budgets: the Capital Budget which covers tangible items such as building construction, upgrades, renovations, and equipment purchases while the Operating Budget outlines the City’s cost of staying up and running.
In his presentation, Joy outlined how the economic outlook for Fort St. John is looking much better than it was two years ago at the height of the recession in the oil and gas industry. He said that staff have been instructed by Council to maintain the status quo when it comes to both service levels and revenues, resulting in net balance for the City’s coffers.
Looking at this year’s operating budget, the City has managed to eliminate 20 percent of discretionary spending outside of staffing expenses this year. Joy said that by eliminating budget creep, the City is looking at spending $59.1 million on operating costs in total this year, an increase compared to 2017 of just over $200,000.
Despite the belt-tightening, the City is having to deal with costs going up this year as salaries, wages, and employee benefits will be increasing by 3.8 percent in 2018. The City would also see lower tax revenues if they kept the current tax rates the same, due to the fact that property assessments in the community dropped by an average of 4.6 percent.
With this in mind, Joy said that the City will be looking to increase property tax rates by 2.17 percent compared to the rate over the last two years in order to keep the budget balanced. Joy explained that though tax rates would increase slightly, the rates will actually be lower than those in 2015 by just over two percent.
He also said that just because the rates are increasing, the corresponding drop in assessment values means the City will bring in nearly the same amount of money as last year. According to the draft budget, owners of properties that decreased in value by 4.9 percent will pay the same amount of taxes as they did in 2017.
Those whose properties were assessed lower will actually pay lower property taxes in 2018, while those with homes that did not drop in price will pay slightly higher taxes. For example, Joy said that a house assessed at $387,000 last year that did not drop in value will see a property tax increase of just under $40 this year.
Council is expected to vote on whether to approve the final copy of the Operating Budget at its next meeting on January 22nd.