The suggestion of a two per cent taxation rise for 2013 brought City council to a halt Tuesday night.
In their discussion on the preliminary budget and Five-year Financial Plan, some councillors were against the rise proposed by City staff and asked to meet further to whittle it down to zero.
City chief financial officer Cecile Arnott told council in a special meeting Tuesday night in council chambers the proposed budget contained in the 2013-2017 Five -year Financial Plan was drafted—at council’s direction in December—to retain all services at current levels.
In order to keep everything intact, she said, the current plan shows a water and sewer user fee revenue increase of two per cent. If that was instituted this year, that would work out to four per cent rise, or around $24 per family.
The plan also suggested a taxation increase of two per cent, or around $35 per household.
The suggested rise and the proposed budget did not sit well with councillor Cary Fisher.
“Every government in the world is tightening their budget right now. To increase our budget is irresponsible,” he said. “Irresponsible.”
Fisher said there was already a 2.4 per cent tax increase coming from the RDKB that council had to lay on the backs of Rosslanders. Another increase from the City was too much and he suggested going back to a planning stage to rebuild the budget.
He said there was no City policy for how it funded community groups, such as tying programming and community funding to an overall percentage of tax dollars collected. Fisher said the question of how much the City funds community groups should be put to the community for input.
“A sober look needs to be done on all of this,” he said. “We can’t afford it right now. We really can’t afford it.”
Others councillors agreed. But councillor Kathy Moore said she wanted to see how some of the proposed budget’s line items would look like in the budget before they began cutting.
There is a need to plan, but that kind of plan doesn’t happen quickly, said Arnott. If council wanted to plan for the five-year level, the City won’t make it in time for May 14, the deadline for filing its budget with the province.
There would have to be public input sessions organized on operations, core services and social planning, with a steering committee having to be set up, she noted.
“I understand council’s frustration with that (budget) … however, if you want to plan and plan it well, it won’t happen overnight,” she said.
Council agreed to crack open the proposed budget next Wednesday evening in council chambers.
The community funding requested amount caused some concern around council. In all, there was $381,400 requested for community groups, including Tourism Rossland ($30,000) and over $100,000 for the Rossland Library.
The number for social planning pushed to nearly $500,000 when the $116,200 worth of in-kind work was considered.
“There are some groups in this community that get money from us that are a luxury,” said Fisher. “They are not a necessity. And in the times we are in we need to seriously look at them.”
For example, Fisher was not convinced the return on investment for broadband was as good as council was being told.
“So to look at spending $180,000 on top of it, I’m not convinced of it,” he said.
Fisher said if knew the community was behind funding everything in the proposed budget, he would be in favour of raising taxes.
Councillor Jill Spearn agreed, but said the prospect of obtaining consent on everything was onerous.
“Where do we come to as common understanding as a group on the values we hold for our community?” she said. “You might think something is extravagant and luxurious, whereas some of us would think it is important to the community and those service groups are the social fabric that keep us together as we are in Rossland.”
She asked when council would find the time to decide what was important to the community, or should they go line by line, or make a percentage cut across the board.
Mayor Greg Granstrom said the City needed a policy in that regard.