Creston Town Hall is located on 10th Avenue North.

Creston Town Hall is located on 10th Avenue North.

Five-year plan will see Creston property taxes rise 5.8 per cent

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  • Mar. 28, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Creston property owners can expect a 5.8 per cent tax increase this year, all of it going into the town’s share of policing costs.

“The rest of the budget remains virtually unchanged from last year’s total, with cuts having been made to reflect increases resulting from inflation,” Steffan Klassen, director of finance and corporate services, told Creston town council at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Klassen said that most of the spending reductions came from the fire department’s budget as staff worked to keep a tight rein on expenditures.

He painted a cautious picture of the local economy, in which the commercial sector is struggling and only two new houses were built last year.

“The new hotel will hopefully continue to stimulate economic revitalization as the rest of the Kootenays recognizes that Creston is an ideal central location for meetings and conferences,” he said.

A slow real estate market is a concern, though the health care sector, local mills and Columbia Brewery have remained quite stable. Tourism, he noted, has increased in each of the last two years.

In his presentation, Klassen indicated that police and victim services now make up 16 per cent of the town’s general fund expenses, accounting for $1,095,767 of the 2013 budget total of $6,818,120. Only the works department, at $1,559,659, and general government (primarily town hall services), at $1,475,643, account for a great portion of the budget.

The taxpayers’ cost for policing is being buffered by a $425,000 transfer from the policing reserve fund, which will be drained in 2015. About $400,000 will be left in the reserve fund after 2013. Klassen estimates that municipal taxes will have increased by 36 per cent at the end of five years, which equates to about 12 per cent on a total property tax bill.

Until 2012, after a federal census showed Creston’s population had exceeded 5,000, policing costs were divided 70/30 between the provincial (17 per cent of the 70 per cent provincial share was paid by Creston taxpayers as a police tax) and federal governments.

“It’s a challenge, but we are able to meet it,” he said about keeping all other spending stable. “It’s a good news story, in my opinion.”

Utility costs will continue to rise according to a plan established in 2010. Sewer fees will increase by two per cent annually through 2017. Water fees will take a 15 per cent jump in 2013, then increase by five per cent annually from 2014-2016.

“The increases in water costs are all attributed to the Arrow Creek system and not to town infrastructure,” he said.

The Arrow Creek water treatment plant is facing significant costs in the near future, as filters come to the end of their effectiveness and need replacing.

Three readings of the statutory five-year financial plan were passed by council at the end of the meeting.

With only two people in the council chamber gallery, Coun. Wesly Graham said that “coffee shop grouching about town spending” doesn’t seem to translate into genuine concern.

“I notice there is no lynch mob here today,” he said.