Draft plan calls for eight per cent Ladysmith tax hike

Staff say conflicting priorities got in the way of council's stated goal of under five per cent

Mayor Aaron Stone listens as staff details some of the financial challenges facing Ladysmith in the upcoming budget.

Mayor Aaron Stone listens as staff details some of the financial challenges facing Ladysmith in the upcoming budget.

Ladysmith council wanted its staff to prepare a budget with a minimal tax increase.

It did not exactly get what it asked for.

Citing a need to balance the taxation direction with other stated council priorities, staff presented a preliminary financial plan Monday calling for an overall hike this year of eight per cent to the residential tax requisition and a lift of four per cent to the commercial tax base.

“The recommendation on the tax increase is higher than we would like to be putting forward,” city manager Ruth Malli said. “We’d like to draw your attention to the reasons why.”

A big part of those reasons is a desire to upgrade and replace the town’s infrastructure, including a projected $40 million in water system improvements anticipated over the next 10 years.

With a new fire hall and new city hall also eventually on the books, the town has mandated putting more money aside to pay for future infrastructure projects — at least 10 per cent of the overall budget is preferred, according to the draft plan.

Another factor is a desire to reflect council’s eight stated priorities for 2015: partnerships with the Stz’uminus First Nation, watershed protection, downtown and economic development, the waterfront, asset management, asset replacement, information technology, and staffing.

According to financial services co-ordinator Erin Anderson, the current draft proposal would see the owner of an average Ladysmith home pay $154 more in annual  taxes. That includes water parcel taxes that are set to rise by $30 while sewer parcel taxes will stay the same.It also includes upticks of about $8 and $3 for police and library costs, respectively — things the town has no control over.

Meanwhile, water user rates will rise by 10 per cent while sewer fees will climb by $1 a month.

The average home assessment this year is $285,400 based on preliminary B.C. assessment figures for Ladysmith single-family housing.

As part of a philosophy aimed at shifted the tax burden from businesses to homeowners, the budget reflects council’s direction for a percentage increase in the commercial tax requisition that would be half of that facing homeowners.

Commercial property owners have typically paid a rate significantly higher than that of a residential property owner. Last year, the commercial mill rate was nearly three times that of the residential.

The draft budget is available for review on the town website. City staff have put it together with a goal of explaining the budgeting process to the public, answering the most frequently heard questions and giving them an opportunity to respond in a way that will help council shape its priority list.

They stressed that this document is expected to change. Council’s stated goal was a municipal tax increase of no more than five per cent. Council is expected to use this draft plan as a starting point that it will shift and shape over the next month before determining the city’s final budget.

“This is a preliminary discussion based on a preliminary assessment,” Anderson said.