Budget meeting a bit of a bust
Tuesday’s night open house to unveil the city’s 2015 budget and five-year financial plan could be described in one word, according to Castlegar Mayor Lawrence Chernoff – “disappointing”.
He wasn’t speaking to the content of the meeting, for which he applauded city director of financial services Andre Buss, “The presentation was excellent”. His concern, rather, was with the dismal attendance – only about 20 people other than city councillors and staff showed up over the three-hour time frame.
“It’s about the same as every other year,” he said. “This is such an important document – and we want input, we’re trying to gather feedback. The hard part for me is after the budget gets passed, or during elections, is when we hear all the complaints, after it’s too late. We need the input before then.”
He said he thinks there are two ways to look at it: either the take-home message for council is that people just aren’t interested, or they’re content with the status quo and happy with the direction in which council is taking the city.
“I prefer the latter interpretation,” he said, adding he hopes residents use the other means at their disposal to offer input before the budget is finalized: via phone calls, letters, emails, even Facebook messages. “It’s a draft budget – the door isn’t closed yet.”
Councillor and finance committee chair Florio Vassilakakis said he did see a couple more business owners than in the past.
“Businesses are still not happy – they feel their tax rates should be lower, not only in comparison to residential rates, but also in comparison to other communities.”
He said the city has focussed on adjusting industrial tax rates in previous years, and now needs to look to doing the same for commercial rates.
“You can’t do that in a single year, but it needs to be done,” he said. “This (commercial rates 3.75 times higher than residential) puts us at a comparative disadvantage when investors come into the region. It’s a disincentive to investing in Castlegar.”
The budget includes a tax increase of about $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.
Highlights include almost $6 million for the Columbia Avenue redevelopment project (2/3 of which will be funded by higher levels of government), $1 million for a new ladder truck for the fire department, and $375,000 for improvements to the South Sewer Treatment plant, upgrades which should shave as much as $75,000 off the plant’s annual operating costs.
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