Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Council Budget discussions offer up flashes of anger, a bit of confusion and the desire for a workshop!

The start of the budget process for 2014 got off to a rocky start in Prince Rupert City Council on Monday evening, as Council discussed some of what appears to have been an information overload that was presented to them in the middle of a lengthy Monday night session.

Prior to the discussion on the path ahead for Budget Considerations, Ms. Corinne Bomben, the City's Financial Officer offered up a review of some of the process involved in providing the Budget Preview.

Outlining for council that the city would be considering a status quo budget, one which has been prepared with only those initiatives included that are deemed as necessary.

Ms. Bomben advised that it is estimated that it will require 30 Million dollars to operate the city services, with an additional 7 million dollars for Utilities Fund for a total of 37 million.

Among some of the main takeaways from the presentation on noticeable differences between 2013 and 2014 were:

All Capital purchases and works are to be funded through grants or operating surplus carried forward from 2013.

CityWest will commit to a dividend to the City of $250,000 for the city this year.

Assessment change has resulted in an increase in property tax of almost 1.4 million dollars, with a freeze of the municipal mil rate.

Contractual wage increases  and benefit increases will result in an increased cost of 605,000 dollars.

Costs associated with the Airport Ferry and Bus Operations are projected to increase by 145,000 dollars.

Staffing changes and increase in complement will account for 315,000 dollars

RCMP costs will increase from the 2013 budget by 190,000 dollars.

Energy costs are projected to increase by 41,000 dollars.

Increases in utilities funds will cover off any anticipated increases this year as they are self funding.

She then provided some breakdowns on where funding was allocated to various civic departments.

Advising that with assessment values from BC Assessments having gone up approximately 8 per cent, with that the city anticipates a hold on the municipal mil rate stemming from that assessment.

Following her presentation, two of the city's council members made their attempts to get a bit of a handle on the information flow that had been provided.

Councillor Thorkelson led off the questions for Ms. Bomben, seeking clarification on the difference between the 2013 budget with 2014.  She was advised that the figures used in the presentation were outlining property tax allocations.

She followed up that question with an inquiry on tax revenue change, and wondered what the tax rate increases would look like for homeowners in the community.  She was advised that the tax rate would not increase in the property tax bylaw, but that potential tax revenue would increase owing to the property assessment increases.

Mr. Long offered up the observation that the city will obtain more tax revenue, owing to the increased assessment value of houses from BC Assessment. With each resident finding their taxes increasing or decreasing dependent on their assessment of January.

The Mayor also advised that there could be changes owing to property assessment appeals.

Councillor Thorkelson then suggested that this would be a useful topic for a future workshop for Council, so as to clear up any confusion that council may have on the issue.

Ms. Bomben offered to bring in a review of some of the different assessed value changes on market changes and other scenarios related to the community property values and the changes to their taxable values.

At this point of the lengthy discussion on the topic, Councillor Garon advised that there was a fair bit of confusion on the issue, a term that the Mayor took exception with, advising that she could speak for herself, but that he wasn't confused.

Undaunted and perhaps taken aback a bit, Councillor Garon, said that she believed others around the council table perhaps were having a problem understanding the issues under discussion and that a workshop would be beneficial towards a better understanding of it.

Councillor Cunningham tried to put the discussion into brief understandable terms, suggesting that even with the mil rate remaining the same, taxes will be going up for taxpayers in the community, owing to the property assessments.  He did offer his agreement to the concept of a workshop on the topic.

Mr. Long suggested March the 10th for the workshop. The Mayor asked if that was a date acceptable for Councillor Garon. She advised that she wasn't available on that date, showing a flash of anger in tossing back the Mayor's comments regarding her stated confusion on the issue pervious.

Councillor Thorkelson offered up a one more question on the Budget discussion, asking as to the nature of the Major industry increases and what accounts for that.

She wrapped up her thoughts on the subject, asking for clarification and providing observations on what portion of the total budget is run on taxes and of the large cost attributed to RCMP expenses.

Ms. Bomben explained that of the 30 million dollars required to run the city, only fifteen million of that comes from taxes.

Following that discussion, the Mayor advised all council members that they could always approach members of the Financial staff for clarification on anything that they have concerns over.

Councillor Thorkelson then re-inforced her desire to have a workshop session to help clear up any confusion on the discussion, which provided Councillor Garon one more opportunity to agree with the workshop concept and again express her disappointment in the Mayor's approach and his attitude towards her questions on the budget issues.

It is worth noting that, beyond Councillors Thorkelson and Garon, none of the other members in attendance on Monday, weighed in with much in the way of comments or questions on the topic for the night.

With both Councillors Carlick-Pearson and Kinney keeping a fairly low profile on the topic and Councillor Cunningham offering up only his short synopsis opinion, that with assessments having gone up so too would be the taxes for those residents so assessed by BC Assessments.

Councillor Ashley, was not available for the Council session and not in attendance for the marathon meeting of Monday night.

Considering how the entire process seemed to evolve,  the prospect of a workshop to review in detail some of the Budget planing might be a fairly welcome portion of the entire process.

Providing for a dedicated review of the information and providing for a bit of clarity, offering the opportunity for Council members to report back to the public with a better understanding of the financial prospects for the year ahead.

You can follow along with the entire financial review as presented to Council from the City's Video Archive the Financial proposals arrive at the one hour fifty five minute mark and continues through to the 2 hour 20 minute mark.

We have background on more items up for discussion on Monday night from our Archive of the February 24th session as well more items of note on municipal issues can be found on our Discussion Points from Council archive.

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