Proposed budget includes residential/commercial increases, public meeting scheduled
Residents got their first glimpse of Castlegar’s 2015 budget in a finance department report presented at city council’s regular meeting last night. The budget includes a tax increase of roughly $56 per year (roughly $4.67 a month) for the average household and a two-per-cent hike for commercial taxes.
The total roughly-$32-and-a-half-million budget includes almost $8 million collected for other levels of government (such as the school board, an operating budget of just over $14 million and a capital projects budget of just over $10.5 million.
City councillor and chair of council’s Finance Committee Florio Vassilakakis said there are a wide range of priorities being addressed with said money.
“I’m really excited about the dog park,” he said. “People’s quality of life doesn’t get better with a $5-million expenditure on our underground sewers, but it has to be done. It’s like getting a new part for your car – the car doesn’t run better for it, but you have to do it if you want the car to keep running at all. A lot of the budget is like that.
“That’s why things like the dog park are exciting – people want it, and it will improve their quality of life.”
The same goes, he says, for the $1 million to be spent on a new ladder truck to replace the old fire engine, as it will enhance both the safety of residents and the economic growth of the city (without it, city planners can’t approve any building over four stories high).
Vassilakakis said there is also a line item for exploring the city’s options around encouraging, attracting and promoting new business, as well as cash for strategic planning around our airport.
“Those all go back to the five-year plan that council put in motion to reduce the city’s dependence on industry – and I think we’ve still got a long way to go,” he said.
He said it’s an ambitious budget that will take a serious dip out of city reserves – hence the tax increase.
“It’s not a loss, it’s shifting some of our resources from cash to assets,” he said.
“I, personally, believe in user-pay systems,” he added, clarifying that he doesn’t mean residents should have to pay each time they go down to the ponds, but rather that they’ve paid for the amenity with their tax dollars already. “The new City Hall and Millennium Ponds should have, I think, been paid for by the people who will use them, but the reality is, they were paid for with taxes collected years ago. Some of the people who contributed may have moved or passed away and don’t get to enjoy the amenity they helped pay for. We are still putting money into reserves for future generations, but I think it’s a disservice to taxpayers to collect their money and hold onto it for decades – that implies we think that we’re better stewards of their capital than they are. Instead, we’re translating some of that capital into assets residents have told us they want.”
The residents will get more opportunity to weigh in, as well, at a public budget meeting scheduled for April 21, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the Community Forum.
City director of finance Andre Buss, author of the report, pointed out that many current initiatives are tied, not just to one year’s spending, but rather the longer-term goals laid out in the five-year plan.
“The cumulative effects of the many initiatives the City has undertaken, over the years, is having a positive effect on the community and the 2015 budget and five year financial plan builds on this success,” Buss wrote, going on to outline various undertakings. “The 2015 to 2019 capital plan includes:
· Approximately $5 million has been placed in the budget for a Columbia Avenue Redevelopment Project. This project includes a significant amount of paving along Columbia Avenue. It includes replacement of aging water main infrastructure, storm sewer system improvements and the implementation of new pedestrian and cycling trails as called for in the Pedestrian and Cycling Master Plan. Staff is currently reviewing the scope of the project while working with officials from senior levels of government to determine funding eligibility. This project is 2/3rds funded by senior levels of government.
· A street tree program is identified as a key Official Community Plan implementation action step and is a core element to achieving many of the City’s environmental, transportation and aesthetic community objectives. Approximately $10,000 was expended on this initiative in 2014 and a $32,000 budget line has been included in 2015. The program will be funded from Community Action Incentive Program (CARIP) provincial funding revenues.
· $160,000 has been placed in the budget for continuation of storm system improvements on 9th avenue.
· One million dollars has been placed in the budget to purchase a new Fire Engine Ladder Truck ($100,000 in 2015 and $900,000 in 2016). The City’s 1987 Fire Engine is reaching its mandatory, 30 year, replacement date. A new truck is a 20 year investment and a ladder truck will allow for development that currently doesn’t exist in the City. It would be an attractive consideration for those considering developing large box stores, multi-level care facilities, a regional hospital or for other industry development.
· $375,000 is in the budget for the construction of an Anoxic Zone at the South Sewer Treatment plant. This project is expected to eliminate the need for caustic soda in order to balance the PH at the treatment plant. This will save the city as much as $75,000, per annum in operating costs.
· $60,000 is in the budget to develop an Airport business case and strategic plan. Enhancing Airport reliability is foremost in Council’s mind and developing a comprehensive business strategy goes hand in glove with this initiative and ensuring the Airports sustainability.
· $125,000 has been placed in the budget to develop an off-leash dog park in Millennium Park. This is another implementation step in the Millennium Park Master-Plan.
· The budget provides continued support for Sculpture Walk, community cultural organizations and communities in bloom. An additional $15,000 was provided for Communities in Bloom Eco Sculptures and other initiatives.
· $19,427 was placed in the budget for the Community Foundation of Castlegar and District. In December of 2014 the Foundation, which is an endowment fund similar to the Vancouver Foundation, appeared before Council to provide them with an update. This volunteer organization has been awarded registered charity status and has received sizable contributions from the Kootenay Savings Community Foundation, the BC Senior Games, Castlegar United Way and others. They currently have approximately $174,000 in the endowment fund and the Columbia Basin Trust has promised them a matching grant if they can raise $25,000 to $50,000 within a two year period. Council’s contribution comes from a small reserve fund earmarked for Industrial Tax Appeals, which is no longer needed, as well as a an amount bequeathed to the City by the Kalesnikoff family in 2006.
· The budget will include a $50,000 line item for the Dr. Recruiting program. Area I and J directors will co-fund this initiative and work with Castlegar to ensure the area has adequate physician health care for its citizens. Area I and J directors are also partnering with City Council on a review of the library facility. This review may recommend a significant upgrades to the library which will be cost sharedby Area’s I, J and the City of Castlegar.”