Revelstoke council delayed a vote on the city’s 2016 budget, instead opting to hold another special budget session so it could weigh in comments from the Chamber of Commerce first.
Council was scheduled to give first, second and third readings to the 2016–20 financial plan on Tuesday, but instead voted almost unanimously to delay the readings in order to consider comments from the public — notably the Chamber of Commerce.
“I was a little surprised this was coming up today,” said councillor Connie Brothers during discussion. “There has been comments made by the chamber. They put a lot of time and energy and work into this… I think its incumbent on us to take a look at it.”
Her comments were echoed by other councillors and Mayor Mark McKee.
“If there’s an appetite to wait for two weeks and take a look at some of the comments, I think there’s an opportunity to do that,” said councillor Aaron Orlando.
Only councillor Linda Nixon voted to give the budget first three readings.
“This work has been ongoing since August, it’s been before council, we’ve worked at this table,” she said. “I think this budget needs to go through as it is. We have had six months to sit here and decide what we’re going to cut. We didn’t cut and we added services.”
The city has scheduled a final special budget meeting for Monday, Feb. 29, at 1 p.m. Council has until May 15 to pass the financial plan. It initially hoped to do so by the end of 2015.
Allan Chabot, the city’s chief administrative officer, told council that if substantial changes were made to the plan, it would have to go back to the public for comment.
Council also received a letter from architect Eileen Fletcher asking the city to fund moves that would help protect the city’s heritage assets.
Council put forward a $21.7 million budget to the public at the end of January. It includes a two per cent tax increase for residents and one per cent tax increase for businesses.
Looking at past years’ budget processes, in 2014, council held a special meeting to consider feedback before adopting the financial plan. Last year, when the budget process was delayed due to a new council coming onboard following the election, council gave three readings to the budget on the same day it received public feedback.
Chamber makes five recommendations
The Chamber of Commerce made five recommendations in its response to the 2016–20 financial planl:
— Begin the budget process in August 1 of each year;
— Create a 10 year plan for infrastructure and asset management;
— Provide clear and consistent financial data and statements;
— Conduct an independent core review of city hall;
— Improve the fairness of the business tax burden.
Some of the recommendations are already in place. Councillors began the budget process in committees in August of 2015, though the first full draft of the budget wasn’t presented to council until October 13, and a final plan wasn’t sent to the public until late January.
As well, the city’s engineering department is working on an asset management plan.
On the third recommendation, the chamber says the city should make available “clear, easy to read financial information including a simple breakdown of taxation, grant and fee revenues and expenses expressed on a consistent basis over time.” The information should also show the breakdown of property taxes and where the money goes.
The chamber recommends allocating money for a core review that would look at all policies, service levels, staffing and salary levels.
Finally, the chamber continues to advocate for reducing the tax ratio between businesses and residents. Currently, the mill rate on businesses is 3.84 times that of the rate on residential properties. The chamber says the ratio should be reduced to 2:1 by 2020 and it has presented a plan to do so that would involve reducing taxes on businesses while raising taxes on residences slightly faster than proposed.
You can read the financial plan, along with the comments from the Chamber of Commerce, below: