City of Rossland begins budget talk

Rossland property taxes are some of the highest in the region and some serious cutbacks could be made over the next five years.

Rossland property taxes are some of the highest in the region and unless some serious cutbacks are made, they’ll continue to increase beyond inflation over the next five years.

That was the message at a committee of the whole meeting held at City Hall Wednesday to begin discussing the budget for 2016-2020.

Steve Ash, consulting manager of finance, gave a presentation to council in which he addressed the high property taxes Rosslanders already pay and how the city can plan to more forward this year, and over the following four years.

As an example, Ash gave the approximate annual tax on a $250,000 home. Rossland ranked highest when compared with neighbouring cities and other municipalities of the same population size at $3171. Property tax on the same home was estimated at $2513 in Trail, at $1995 in Castlegar and at $2197 in Golden (pop. ~3700).

Rossland’s commercial property taxes didn’t compare much better. Tax on a $211,000 business is estimated at $5251 in Rossland, $4567 in Trail, $4566 in Castlegar and $4531 in Golden.

Given that taxes in Rossland are already so much higher than in other municipalities, council may have to consider some deep cuts to future city spending to keep them from climbing even higher and driving away potential and existing residents and business owners. Some of those cuts may even happen this year.

Ash presented three options for the 2016 budget.

In the first option, there’d be no changes to present city services, $50,000 would be added for the Trail Recreation Program (TRP) subsidy, salaries would increase two per cent, funds would be added to retirement and other reserves, Community Support Grants would increase this year and, and a GIS technician and foreman would be added to the staff. The results would be a tax increase of five per cent or more.

The only differences to the second option are that there would only be small adjustments applied to reserves and Community Support Grants would be decreased, rather than increased, allowing the city to keep the tax increase between three and four per cent.

In the third option, there would be no increase to reserves at all and the $50,000 for the TRP subsidy would be offset by a decrease to the Community Service Grants, keeping the tax increase in line with inflation.

The cuts in 0ption two or three would already impact the community, but these are the just the measures needed to keep taxes down for 2016.

In the long run, the city needs to consider the expenses incured from capital projects that are already planned, as well as capital projects that will arise from its asset management plan.

Ash also presented three different options for the next five years.

In the first option the compounded tax increase would be 124 per cent from 2016-2020 and would account for the Washington St. upgrade being in service and building reserves for regional sewer.

The section option would reduce the the compounded tax increase to 114 per cent, but at the expense of cutting recreation by $150,000. Recreation has been thrown up on the chopping block because it accounts for over 20 per cent of the city’s annual expenses.

The third option would reduce the compounded tax increase even further, to 110 per cent, but would require cutting recreation expenses by $300,000 and would require tight control of discretionary costs, which include recreation, maintaining trails and supporting the library, museum, Miners’ Hall and other city buildings.

Wednesday’s budget meeting was only the first step in a longer process, and nothing has been decided yet. One of city council’s first steps will be to prepare for public consultation. Council directed staff to prepare a Request for Proposal (RFP) to facilitate public consultation, which was publicly released on Tuesday.

Council also asked staff to make a recommendation on prioritizing business plans for the arena, museum, recreational department and daycare.

At Monday night’s council meeting, council also voted to allocate $287,500 to community groups in 2016, though as of yet individual community group applications have not been considered.

The next budget meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 1 at 3 p.m.