Council aims for zero tax increase

Sicamous council has its sights set on zero tax increase, before growth, for the district’s 2011 budget.

At a recent committee of the whole meeting, council was taken through the proposed 2011-2020 financial plan by district administrator Alan Harris. The primary point stressed by Harris is that the budget was crafted, at the wish of council, to reflect a zero per cent increase with the exception of non-market value change (growth), which for 2011 is 1.99 per cent. To achieve this, Harris said he challenged staff to see where things might be done better. As a result, some projects planned or being considered will not be happening this year.

“Council has been considering an RV park, it is not in here,” said Harris. “Anything with regards to providing a co-ordinator position, should one come out of the parks plan to be funded, is not in here.”

The budget also doesn’t reflect the district’s contribution to the Columbia Shuswap Regional District. But Mayor Malcolm MacLeod expects to see little or no increase there for Sicamous residents. Asked why the push for no municipal tax increase, MacLeod pointed to current economic conditions.

“We’ve heard from the public, the economy isn’t that strong these days – a lot of people aren’t making the money they used to and we just have to look at ways of trying to do a better job and that’s one way of doing it,” said MacLeod. “If the economy turns around and there’s lots of development and people are prosperous, then, possibly, we can step it up at that point. But right now, things are still pretty quiet around here.”

The subject of grant funding came up in council’s budget discussion, with Harris noting the district has an application to the province for ultraviolet water filtration. He said if it isn’t successful, it’s uncertain whether the project could be prolonged any further as Interior Health is already pushing the district to have a full water-filtration system – a project expected to cost $6 million. This led to comment on an issue the district and other municipalities are coping with in regard to grant funding.

“The biggest problem municipalities are having right now is they don’t want to do tax increases,” said Harris. “Where you’re impacting is on your capital and down the road. And they’re going, well, we’re going to get grants from the government. Well, there’s no guarantee.”

Harris added that when growth falls off, and a zero per cent a tax increase is desired, you have to look at cutting services.

“Right now we still have a little bit of growth,” said Harris. “But, having said that, you just don’t want to have growth to create income with taxes. You have to look at, is it the right growth for the District of Sicamous?”

The budget shows no change to revenue from parcel taxes. Sewer and water rates remain the same (increase in sewer revenue will be due to new connections). There’s an increase in bylaw enforcement costs of $4,887 for weekends, but once more the hiring of a full-time fire chief is being pushed back.

Various council and district staff-related expenses are being cut, including the funds for the council retreat ($1,575) and the annual corporate review ($5,000).

Despite a zero increase, Harris noted that taxation of individual properties will reflect current assessment rates.

The amount that we’re requisitioning over and above last year, excluding growth, does change,” said Harris. “Your tax rates always change because of market changes… “