On Revelstoke: 11 takeaways from this year’s budget process

Editor Alex Cooper looks at the City of Revelstoke's budget, with the deadline for public comment coming up on April 18.

The deadline to submit comments to the City of Revelstoke on their new budget is fast approaching. If you have something to say, whether it’s about spending or the proposed tax increase, you need to let the city know by contacting the finance department at finance@revelstoke.ca or 250-837-2161 by Tuesday, April 18, at 4 p.m.

The city put out its public consultation package on the budget. It provides a good overview of operating and capital spending, and what the proposed six per cent tax increase means for you. It can be found at revelstoke.ca/DocumentCenter/View/3496.

Here’s my 11 biggest highlights from this year’s budget process.

1. The biggest departmental spending increase belongs to the fire department, both in terms of percentage and actual dollars. There’s a couple of reasons for this, the main one being that the fire department was under-budgeted in 2016 and it’s actual spending was quite a bit higher. The other reason is because the city brought the emergency coordinator position in-house and combined it with the fire training officer position. This meant hiring a new flex firefighter, but also meant the city isn’t contracting out the emergency coordinator position for $92,000. The net increase in city spending as a result of the moves is $60,000.

2. Sticking with the fire department, it’s total budget for 2017 is about $1.73 million. That’s a lot of money and more than double what the city spent a decade ago. I spoke to fire chief Rob Girard about the reasons for this. Part of it is taking on more services, such as the first responder program and administrating highway rescue services. Another cause is that firefighters around the country has been successful in getting themselves good pay increases. They also have “me too” clauses that mean if one department signs a sweetheart deal, other firefighters will get it too. The city also adopted higher training standards for its department in late 2015, which has meant increased training costs. They also built a training centre in the industrial park. Call volume is up too. “The system we have is the most efficient system we can have in Revelstoke based on our geography,” said Girard. “We don’t have the ability to call in a neighbouring department to assist us on a fire.”

3. The Revelstoke RCMP is hiring another officer, bringing the detachment total to 13 municipal officers, and its budget (including court services) to $2.3 million. The new officer will be dedicated to investigative work and the annual cost for new position is $120,000. The city also hired a general duty officer last year, and Staff-Sgt. Kurt Grabinsky has requested another two, including a sergeant and a general duty officer. His justification is that while the department is staffed to police 7,000 people, they actually have to police far more due to increased tourism and seasonal residents.

4. The only area of public security that didn’t get a budget increase this year is bylaw enforcement. They asked for $44,000 more in order to add 20 hours of coverage to evenings and weekends to better enforce things like illegal camping, illegal vacation rentals, noise, parking and people putting their garbage out overnight.

5. The budget includes $1,000,000 for the highway intersection project this year. That’s on top of what was spent last year; in total, the project is going to cost about $2.1 million, which is $900,000 more than was budgeted. Fortunately, the province kicked in $700,000 last week, which brought out at least one audible whoop from a city official. The rest of the money is supposed to come from development cost charges.

6. The city got good news and bad news from a recent announcement by Infrastructure Canada regarding the Clean Water & Wasterwater Fund. The good news is it received $972,033 grant for the Illecillewaet River pipe crossing, meaning the city will only have to pay for $199,092 of the $1,117,125 project. The bad news is the city didn’t get funding for the Front & Wales lift station project, meaning the $880,000 project will have to mostly be paid for out of the sewer reserve fund. While the water project is more expensive, the city is facing a $30 million sewer treatment plant upgrade in the not-too-distant future, so it’s not ideal the city has to dip into its reserves there.

7. The city will be spending $235,000 on road patching and paving this year, but major spending is being put off until staff completes a long-term infrastructure plan. The Pavement Management Plan that was released earlier this year recommends the city spends at least $1.2 million on road repairs to keep them in their current condition, and at least $1.5 million to improve them.

8. Council did find room for the skateboard park in the budget. They will be putting $100,000 into it over the next two years. As of the Friday, the Columbia Valley Skateboard Association raised $765,000 for the project and were expecting a bit more. They plan to break ground later this summer.

9. The city’s sani-dump will be closed off once the highway intersection project is done because that section of Bend Road will be closed. Council decided not to spend $150,000 to relocate it to the industrial park. There are other sani-dumps available in the area at nearby campgrounds and the Ol’ Frontier.

10. The city is spending a little more than $10 million on infrastructure this year. That includes about $2 million on the Big Eddy water upgrades, $970,000 to extend water and sewer to Thomas Brook residents, $1.17 million on the Illecillewaet water pipe crossing, $880,000 on the Front & Wales sewer lift station, $1 million on the highway intersection, $223,000 on firefighter equipment (including $94,000 on the lease for the new fire engine), $280,000 on IT equipment, and a whole lot of spending on lots of smaller items. About a third of the capital spending is being covered by grants.

11. How much will you pay with this budget? The average Revelstoke home, which is worth $270,000 according to BC Assessment, will pay $1,297 in tax, $405 for water, $270 for sewer (plus a frontage fee of $1.60 per foot) and $115 for garbage. That’s $101 more than last year. And that doesn’t include school, hospital, CSRD and other small taxes that the city collects for other agencies.