Want Lower Property Taxes? So What do You Want to Give Up? The Arena? Get Ready to Speak Up.

Sara Golling
By Sara Golling
February 18th, 2016

Recreation alone eats up 20% of Rossland’s annual expenses.

The City has options to consider for keeping taxes from rising too fast, but there are residents who won’t like them.  Some people will be fine with one option, while  others will object loudly — and perhaps  move away.  How can the City keep taxes to acceptable levels  without losing the amenities that keep residents happy to live here?  Those are the questions that City staff and Council members are asking themselves — and will be asking residents soon.

Council met at a Committee-of-the-Whole (CoW) meeting on Wednesday, February 17th, at 4:00 pm.  Consulting Chief Financial Officer Steve Ash and Public Works Manager Darrin Albo presented financial and operational information and  potential budgeting options to Council, and Council decided on some issues to tackle at their next regular meeting on Monday,  February 22, and when to hold their next CoW budget discussion:   Tuesday, March 1, at 3:00 pm.

Readers may recall that this Council had every intention of having its 2016 budget prepared by the beginning of 2016, but personnel issues intervened.   Now, with (temporary) Consulting Chief Administrative Officer Lynne Burch in place, and Steve Ash as temporary CFO, Council is getting down to it.  There’s a time crunch:  they must have the budget finalized, the necessary bylaws must go through first, second and third readings and adoption, and the budget must be submitted by the deadline of May 16. 

Council wants to avoid unaffordable tax increases and is looking to reduce expenses — somehow.  Ash has gone through the Public Works expenditures in great detail with Darrin Albo, and confesses that  “there isn’t a lot of low-hanging fruit” available for cost savings, as both staff and the current and previous councils have worked to keep costs down.  Ash expressed his surprise at learning how few employees the City of Rossland has:  there are only 9 people employed inside City Hall,  and 15 “outside” workers.  Trail, with about double our population, has more employees —  roughly estimated at nearly four times as many, but your reporter has not confirmed that at time of posting.

Albo presented information about Rossland’s “essential services” — road and sidewalk maintenance, winter and summer;  water and sewer utilities;  maintenance of City-owned buildings and parks; bear-proof garbage containers, and  more.  Albo noted that the City has a “constant struggle” in the winter with home-owners who blow  or push snow back onto the streets after plows have gone by, and who park vehicles in the way of plows and in snow storage areas; those home-owners add to the City’s expenses and to our taxes, as well as causing hazard and inconvenience to their neighbours.

Ash pointed out that recreation accounts for 20% of the City’s expenses:  operating the arena, the pool,  recreation programming,  the Trail Recreation Program subsidy, and trails work and maintenance.  The arena’s net annual operating expense is  $270,000; so citizens can expect the arena and its value to the community to come under close scrutiny — as will all other discretionary expenses of the City;  everything that isn’t a core service

Council will be asking residents what we want the City to spend money on and what we are willing to do without.   Start thinking about it, everyone — what do you value most about Rossland?   Trails?  Our Library?  The Miners Hall?  The Seniors’ Hall?   Parks and playing fields?   How much are your favorite things worth to you?   Ash floated the idea of doing away with the Rossland Public Library, and just using a library at the Rossland Summit School (RSS).   Councillor Marten Kruysse commented that he doesn’t consider the Library to be a  community group but rather a core service. 

Ash pointed out that if taxes increase at a rate greater than inflation, that is likely to discourage people from settling here — or remaining here.  Of course, people may also move away if Rossland eliminates or drastically cuts  those amenities that they particularly value. 

Council will be seeking to find that fine line between driving people away by increasing taxes too much, or driving them away by cutting services too far or losing too many amenities.  Since the aim is to make Rossland attractive, and NOT to drive anyone away,  their task is truly challenging. 

Expect to hear more from Council soon — asking for input on its budgeting issues.

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