Revelstoke city council made last-minute tweaks to their 2011 budget before giving the budget bylaw its first readings at their April 26 meeting.
Two main changes created significant, lengthy discussion at the council table.
1. Tourism Coordinator position funding
The first was the reinstatement of funding for the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce’s tourism coordinator position. In the end, council opted to reinstate $30,000 in funding for the tourism coordinator position for 2011, with the caveat that the chamber work with the city’s economic development director Alan Mason to establish a funding agreement for the position in the future.
Councillors responded to the many letters of support for the position sent in by community members and businesses, but they also said there was confusion about what exactly the tourism coordinator did. They also expressed concern about overlap with other tourism promotion efforts, such as efforts through the Revelstoke Accommodation Association.
“Is this a duplication?” asked Coun. Antoinette Halberstadt about the position in relation to other marketing efforts.
“I am confused about all these various people doing what they’re variously doing,” said Coun. Chris Johnston, echoing council sentiment. He asked for a simple flow chart showing various responsibilities.
“It’s taxpayers dollars at the end of the day,” said Mayor David Raven, saying any upcoming funding agreement should include a review of deliverables.
Coun. Tony Scarcella was the exception at the council table, expressing unequivocal support for the position. “I strongly believe that we should have a coordinator for Revelstoke,” he said.
In the end, council opted to reinstate the funding.
2. Downie Timber tax concession
If the budget bylaw is passes as amended on April 26, Downie Timber Ltd. has received a last-minute $37,500 tax break over the zero per cent increase that was proposed a month ago by council.
This follows an appeal by Downie for further reductions in the tax rate for their industrial property, which is the only ‘Class 4’ industrial property in Revelstoke.
Coun. Scarcella presented a motion that sought to move the industrial tax rate to parity with the lower commercial tax rate over a three-year period. He initially proposed a $50,000 cut this year.
Council debated the matter for nearly 40 minutes.
A further concession to Downie appeared to be on the table during the entire debate, but councillors disagreed on the philosophy behind it.
Coun. Peter Frew disagreed with Scarcella’s push for parity, saying he felt industrial operations do incur costs to the city — such as road wear or water use — and they should be taxed differently.
Coun. Antoinette Halberstadt disagreed somewhat, saying it was hard to put a dollar value on how much various industries impact the municipal budget. She noted tourism came with costs, such as increased policing. “It’s very hard to say which one’s more expensive to us,” she said.
Coun. Phil Welock, who in past budget cycles had supported tax reductions for Downie, opted for the compromise of $37,500. “It’s more of a token of our appreciation,” Welock commented.
Cutting it close
The added cost to the budget for these two items was $67,500, in addition to $350,000 that was tagged on due to extra snow removal costs for 2011, leaving the city with a narrow reserve fund of just under $40,000 for this year.
The extra costs will be paid for through a surplus and dipping into reserve funding. Although the idea of looking at cuts to the budget was mentioned at the April 26 meeting, council didn’t have the stomach for discussing cuts. Instead, staff was directed to find “efficiencies” before the vote on the next reading of the bylaw.
Council moved forward with the first readings of four separate bylaws that will make the budget official, but not without dissenting votes.
Coun. Tony Scarcella continued his longstanding opposition to the budget, insisting not enough cuts had been made. Using the analogy of a mortgage, Scarcella calculated the city debt amounted to about $20 million, meaning current financing equalled about 37.5 per cent of tax revenue. He said that would increase to $37.5 million in five years, eating up 55 per cent of tax revenue. “It’s not sustainable and affordable, this 5-year plan,” Scarcella said. He issued a “public apology” on the budget, saying he’d promised to keep taxes at bay, but hadn’t succeeded.
Coun. Chris Johnston also voted against the budget, saying it didn’t address business class taxation issues and that more efficiencies could have been found. “I just feel we’re seeing the taxpayer as an infinite source of funding,” Johnston said, adding that the current model presumed taxpayers could keep it up indefinitely. “There must be better ways of doing things,” he said.
Coun. Phil Welock also voted against the budget, but didn’t directly state why.
Votes on sewer and water bylaws were unanimously in favour.
The vote means that council is moving forward with a 4 per cent increase on residential properties, zero per cent for commercial properties, and a slight reduction for Downie, the only industrial property — although the percentage calculation is not available.