As part of our ongoing election coverage, the Times Review has posed five questions to the candidates for mayor and council. If you have a question you’d like to ask the candidates, please e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.
Our second question is:
The City of Revelstoke faces a number of financial challenges such as high debt, low reserves, major infrastructure issues that need to be dealt with, and pressure to lower the tax burden on businesses. What are your thoughts on the city’s finances and what ideas do you have to meet these challenges while still providing a level of service residents expect?
The city has been open and factual with its finances and budget the last six years. City debt marginally increased in 2013 while completing legal obligations and purchases, and with NO borrowing in 2014 is expected to drop from about $18 million to $17 million. The five year financial plan addresses the debt with decreases of roughly $1 million per year. There was borrowing the last six years to match contributions to federal and provincial infrastructure grants, and a prior commitment that exceeded the depleted reserves.
Future councils may have to look at borrowing for works such as the Big Eddy Waterworks and matching grant opportunities.
Reserves were depleted for various expenditures. The fiscal plan builds reserves through spending reductions. We have worked with staff to minimize the reduction of services while reducing spending and allocating savings to reserves. Reserves were used for city needs and unbudgeted costs for legal challenges and associated costs.
I have taken a conservative approach to managing these risks and building reserves the last six years.
Assuming the city provides value in services for taxes collected, the question as to how taxes should be apportioned between the various classes — whether tax breaks or reductions will incentivize new or existing businesses, and what ratio between taxes paid by residential and business classes is appropriate — is a hot debate. In the last three years, council worked to reduce the tax burden on heavy industry, making it equal to light industry, and reduced the ratio between business and residential classes from over seven to just over four. This helped Downie Timber and addressed concerns from business groups. Nobody wants to pay more taxes, and I take the responsibility to to manage your tax dollars as a personal commitment.
Our economic challenges are this election’s number one issue — the ability to pay for our service needs, high debt, increasing our reserves, and infrastructure. I see where strong leadership, business acumen, prioritization skills, the ability to listen, and most importantly, the ability to make decisions will come into play.
In the past, the city had formed a group of volunteers called the Financial Focus Group to help in these matters. They looked at city finances, recognized the important issues and made recommendations to council. They made numerous recommendations to our current mayor and council, but most were ignored.
With the support of the new council, I would recommend that we reinstate the Financial Focus Group, comprised of volunteers with pertinent experience and expertise. While council is looking at a broad spectrum of issues that our city is facing, this separate committee’s sole purpose would be to focus on all financial matters of our city. It would make recommendations on budgets, financial plans, infrastructure projects and options on how to provide a fair tax requisition system. I would begin with a complete core services review to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of all of our services, and also address the financial sustainability of those services.
Mayor and council should also hold public meetings at which all residents can ask questions and get answers on all aspects of running their city. The people of Revelstoke deserve to be heard. Revelstokians have weathered financial ups and downs in our history and have survived by being careful with their spending. We need a practical mayor and council, value for our tax dollars, and good financial decisions
I believe the city’s financial situation is precarious, but not dire. In the last year some effort has finally been made to address the hemorrhaging of money that has been going on since the ski hill was announced. If elected mayor, I would work to continue trying to pay down the debt and lower commercial taxes in order to help the small businesses in town.
I believe if council shifts its focus from attracting new businesses and people from outside town, and instead focuses on fostering growth from within the community, we can increase revenues and raise the money we need to pay for all services the city provides.
Also, by creating a more vibrant and affordable community we will become more attractive to new investment. As an example, we could provide incentives for infill housing and secondary suites. Combined with a simplified process for building permits, this would bring many illegal projects into the fold, which in turn would help build the tax base as well as provide supplemental income. It would also help address the problem of affordable housing in this town. By creating more small units available for rent, the rates should drop.
This is just one of my ideas, and shows the type of integrated non-linear thinking I would like to bring to the job of mayor. As for short term savings? Hire less consultants, and if absolutely necessary, try whenever possible to hire people from town. We have a wide variety of talent in this town which is being under-utilized.