A last-minute rally by some city councillors seeking to lower the proposed city tax rate increase of 3.5 per cent came close to reopening the discussion, but in the end supporters held firm on the increase.
The renewed discussion came at Revelstoke City Council’s April 23 meeting.
Perennial tax fighter Coun. Tony Scarcella led the charge against the increase. “The direction we are going, we chase people out of town and we don’t attract business,” Scarcella said.
Coun. Chris Johnston expressed his willingness to re-open the debate.
But Coun. Phil Welock wanted to stand pat on the budget, saying there is a need to build reserves: “According to our MP Mr. David Wilks, 2014 is going to be an infrastructure year.” The argument is reserve funds will be needed to match anticipated federal grants.
Coun. Linda Nixon expanded on her reasons for supporting the budget, saying the perception that council hadn’t worked hard and listened is wrong. She said she heard the business view from the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce, but said city expenditures to grow the resort had also greatly benefitted businesses. Nixon underscored the need to build the reserves, pointing out that just one incident – the culvert collapse on Airport Way – had decimated reserves. “Last year we had a surplus and we blew it on one thing,” she said.
City Chief Administrative Officer Tim Palmer led a passionate defence of city staff, saying characterizations they were inefficient were wrong. “Generally, they do an outstanding job in finding efficiencies,” Palmer said.
He felt three myths had arisen during the budget process, and disputed them. They are:
– that the budget doesn’t address operational efficiencies; Palmer cautioned critics “not to confuse efficiencies with service levels.”
– that core operational costs are resulting in tax increases; “That is not true,” Palmer said, pointing to increased services, and costs from the museum, transit, RCMP and other key increases as examples of expenses driving increases.
– that the budget does not address debt, borrowing and reserves; “I am confident that we have turned the tide on debt, borrowing and reserves,” Palmer said.
Mayor David Raven anchored the defence of tax increases, saying they were driven by the costs of resort development, service increases are reserve-building. He said the city was still recovering from debt issues that started when reserves were used up in the late 1990s. “We’re at the point now [where] we’re borrowing for simple maintenance,” he said. “It’s also been exacerbated by the growing demand for services.”
Raven said he was willing to work through the weekend on a revision if council had the stomach for it.
A resigned Coun. Johnston abstained from the vote. “I hear it year after year that next year is going to be better, and it’s just the same thing every year,” he said.
Coun. Scarcella asked the mayor what was going to attract business and people to the community under a high tax regime.
“They want to move here for the lifestyle we are offering,” Raven said, noting the community doesn’t suffer from doctor shortages like other Interior towns.
Scarcella was the only vote in opposition of third reading of the budget bylaw.