After a series of often lengthy committee of the whole meetings, Creston town council is on the verge of approving a 2016 budget that will lead to a property tax increase of under three per cent for municipal services.
The budget, which will get a final look at today’s regular town council meeting, includes a 0.85 per cent increase to cover the 2015 rise in the Consumer Price Index, an additional 1.04 per cent increase in core spending and a $40,000 contribution to the infrastructure replacement reserve.
An additional $25,357 will flow into town coffers from new construction. The total impact on taxpayers is a 2.94 per cent increase in municipal property taxes.
“This budget includes no new taxes for RCMP services and maintains current service levels,” town finance director Steffan Klassen told the committee of the whole at its March 1 meeting.
Taxation revenue is budgeted at $4 million, up from $3.794 million in 2015. Revenues from all sources, including user fees, capital grants and a gas tax, total $7.451 million in the proposed budget. Proposed expenditures totalling $6.212 million would result in a $1.239 million surplus before capital expenditures, debt payments and budgeted transfers to reserves. The 2016 budget includes transfers from reserves totaling $615,000.
At the March 1 meeting, members of town council went through the entire list of capital spending projects, reducing spending on some and deferring others for future budget discussion. Dropped from the list were proposals to add green energy components to town hall, create a sustainable landscape plan for the town hall property and funding for a public art project. Other spending was deferred as councillors worked to keep the tax increase under three per cent.
In a presentation at an earlier meeting, Klassen outlined the directions council had given staff as it began to prepare the 2016 budget. Included were no new taxation for RCMP, maintenance of current program service levels and an adjustment to council remuneration that adds 0.24 per cent to spending levels.
Klassen said key planning assumptions for the 2016-2020 period (municipalities are required under provincial statute to prepare five-year budget projects, which are updated annually) include budgeting for low growth, preliminary planning for a new fire hall and maintaining public works service levels.
Committee of the whole discussions led to the deferral of creating a design for a proposed market park (to enhance the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market site) for two years and direction to staff to apply for Columbia Basin Trust funding for a 70 per cent portion of costs to construct a sidewalk connecting Northwest Boulevard and Railway Boulevard across the railway tracks.
Coun. Kevin Boehmer threw a wrench into the works at the March 1 meeting when, late in the day, he argued against pulling funds from reserves to pay for projects in 2016.
“I think that we shouldn’t be spending more than we bring in through taxes and other revenues,” he said. “I just don’t want there to be any surprises when it comes to voting on this budget,” suggesting he will oppose the budget bylaw.
When pressed to show where spending reductions could be made, Boehmer said he had made suggestions throughout the discussion, but that he didn’t expect council to make dramatic changes at that point.
“This is good information,” Mayor Ron Toyota commented. “But it really should have been brought forward three months ago when we started this process, and not now when we are nearing the date when the 2016 budget has to be finalized.”
Boehmer agreed, but continued to suggest he would be voting against the proposed budget.