City chief administrative officer Cecile Arnott

‘Flattened’ budget dealt to homeowners

City council passed Financial Plan Bylaw 2013-2017 Wednesday morning in council chambers, reducing its fiscal household costs.

There’s nothing like a flat stomach.

And the City of Rossland flattened its stomach as it tightened its belt a notch and delivered a “net zero” effect to city property taxes for the coming year.

Council passed Financial Plan Bylaw 2013-2017 Wednesday morning in council chambers, reducing its fiscal household costs despite battling rises across the board on the price of doing municipal business.

The City will stay flat for taxation revenue in the new tax year, said City chief operating officer Cecile Arnott, but whether each Rosslander’s property taxes go up or down will be reflected in any value change made by BC Assessment.

To ensure that property tax revenue was consistent with 2012 before non market changes—new buildings, renovations and improvements—Arnott said since the assessed property values overall declined by 3.8 per cent, the municipal tax rates will actually increase by 3.7 per cent.

“Although (taxation revenue) does stay flat compared to last year, the non market changes will be levied and transferred to reserve,” she said.

The non market change will give the City a taxation revenue increase of $30,000.

Council crafted a 2.7 per cent decrease overall to its $6.4 million operating budget and gave the bylaw three readings and adoption this week.

City staff had originally recommended a two per cent tax increase, but council wanted taxation “flattened,” to help ease the blow of the increases the city’s residents have been hit with in recent years—some at the City’s behest—and an expected 3.5 per cent tax requisition rise coming from the West Kootenay-Boundary Regional Hospital District Regional and the District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) to Rosslanders.

The RDKB’s requisition is actually down by 1.3 per cent. However, the hospital requisition is up by 44.6 per cent, creating around a $13 rise in taxes per year for the average homeowner.

“The intent was to do the best we can with maintaining services and freeing up a little money from community groups,” said Mayor Greg Granstrom. “We looked hard at all of our expenditures and, in order to move forward, we are looking at some more public consultation (for next year) and see what people think of where we should go.”

Community groups requested $381,400 and received $331,100, an 8.7 per cent reduction from the $362,800 the groups received last year.

The City’s Sustainability Commission was all but dissolved as its funding was cut by $23,000, the manager position erased, and the commission’s tasks brought in-house to City Hall.

However, council granted a $20,000 increase to the Rossland Historical Museum budget.

Council did a give and take exercise on its operating budget, and in a little over two weeks trimmed around $174,500 from the budget.

Protective services had an 11.9 per cent increase, from $144,300 to $161,500 for salary reallocation for a building inspector. The department comprises building inspection, bylaw enforcement, animal control and the emergency services program.

The sewer contract the City has with the RDKB went up $25,000 and was a 9.3 per cent hike overall ($58,700) to $487,100. For a number of years any increases to the sewer budget—a regional district partnership service—were manged from reserve funds.

But this year the regional district’s sewer committee recognized it could not entertain the practice again, said councillor Kathy Wallace, who is the city’s director on the board.

“A reserve fund for an essential service that can be potentially very expensive at a moment’s notice is pretty significant. You can’t keep depleting those funds anymore,” she said.

The City is also allocating an extra $20,000 for potential legal fees to cover the sewer arbitration it is currently embroiled in with the City of Trail.

Transportation and Public Works went up by .9 per cent, from $1.53 million to $1.55 million due to rising labour costs. Fifty per cent of the service’s budget is labour, said Arnott.

Government services dropped 4.1 per cent—around $38,000 to $888,200. Government services comprise the office of the mayor, council salaries, City Hall administration salaries, legal and insurance.

Water operations rose by 4.2 per cent ($22,200) to $558,800, but Planning, Community and Environmental Development was cut by 17.6 per cent, a $55,700 decrease to $214,300. Bylaws and studies planned to be done last year are not going to be done this year, said Arnott, and accounetd for the decrease.

Recreation and cultural services rose by 4.9 per cent, a $8,600 jump to $182,600 due to a rise in administrative costs, usurping a decrease in event and program costs.

Special projects fell by 36.8 per cent ($183,250) to $314,700.

“Last year a lot of those projects were deferred because the City was waiting to see how the Columbia-Washington project went,” said Arnott. “So there were a lot of projects we didn’t repost because we really wanted to do the coming investment planning session so that we do our homework before we do a bunch of projects.”

Community Operating Support rose by 2.6 per cent to $116,200. Facilities and Parks funding dropped 3.6 per cent ($22,400) to $597,400. Environmental Health Services and Public Health and Welfare did not change.

The City’s audited financial statement is due by May 15, but the auditors will be coming the first week of June. The City will be asking for a brief respite from the province for filing the audited statements late.

In June council will tear the lid off the next budget and begin an asset management plan to reconstruct the budget and build it based on agreed-upon priorities.

“Starting June 1 (people) will have every opportunity known to man to help us out with the budget,” said Granstrom.

“It would also be reasonable at that time to open it up to the public to review what council has approved, go over the things it is thinking about so that people can comment on the process,” said councillor Cary Fisher.

Because council had to go so rapidly into the budget due to time constraints, he said, the process will be opened up right away with a public meeting.

A report is still forthcoming on the $4.6 million Columbia-Washington upgrades, said Arnott.

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