Ladysmith council will consider a revised version of the town’s proposed five-year financial plan during a special council meeting tonight (Tues., April 10) as it looks to keep the residential tax increase for 2012 at five per cent.
Council will also be considering the applications by community groups for grants-in-aid during the meeting, which starts at 4 p.m.
Tonight’s discussions come after councillors gave staff direction to work toward a five-per-cent increase in taxes for the residential class, a two-per-cent increase for the commercial class and no increase for the industrial class April 2.
Staff originally came to council with a proposed budget that recommended a 5.39-per-cent increase in the tax rate for 2012.
“We still need to hear from council as to what is an acceptable level for this year’s council,” said city manager Ruth Malli. “In addition, there were things that were added after the budget was circulated … those things are not currently funded in the budget. If council wishes to have those items included in the budget, it would mean a tax increase of over 5.39 per cent.”
New bigger-ticket items that were not included in the original proposed budget include an off-leash dog park at Transfer Beach, Gourlay Jane Park wall replacement, a fire truck replacement fund, and increases to the grants-in-aid requests for the coming year.
Council has decided to defer spending money on the fire replacement vehicle plan until next year’s budget — when it also hopes to receive updated vehicle replacement plans for the town’s Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments.
The cost of fencing the dog park west of Tristan De Koninck Drive at Transfer Beach has been reduced from $30,000 to $14,000, and council will ask dog owners to consider fundraising for further fencing.
The majority of councillors were comfortable with a 2012 tax rate that has zero increase for industrial, a two-per-cent increase for commercial and a five-per-cent increase for residential.
Mayor Rob Hutchins wanted to work toward a four-per-cent increase for residential, while Coun. Gord Horth wanted to see a two-per-cent increase to industrial taxes, no increase for commercial and five-per-cent increase for residential.
“I think we can pare down from 5.39, but I don’t see that we can go down an extra one per cent,” Coun. Jill Dashwood said as she spoke in favour of staying the course.
The town’s general policy for the last 18 years has been to reduce its reliance on the heavy industry class [Class 4] and shift some of that tax burden to the residential class.
“We started addressing it 18 years ago, and we have been very successful on reducing our reliance on the industrial sector,” said Malli. “There’s been direction from council in the last couple of years that the tax rate is X, and commercial is half of X and the industrial tax rate has been zero, and that’s been consistent over the last couple of years.”
Stay the course was the general sentiment around the table.
“We do have the dubious reputation, I believe, still of having the highest industrial tax rate in the province of British Columbia, despite our efforts over the last 18 years,” said Hutchins. “My recommendation to [council] is to stay the course of industrial would be zero, commercial would be half of what residential was, and residential would be taking the burden.”
The only councillor who thought differently was Horth. He wanted to see council send a message of support to the business community by reducing the commercial taxes.
“I think 18 years down the path is very admirable, and even though we are the highest, we’ve made significant inroads in reducing our reliance on Class 4,” he said. “To be honest, I would like to see a slight change in terms of there not being a zero increase to the industrial class. I think a modest increase [to industrial] and that savings be allocated to perhaps lower Class 6 [commercial]. Ideally I’d like to see the [residential] tax rate fall below five per cent.”
During the same meeting, council adopted the town’s sanitary sewer rates bylaw, which establishes the sewer rates for 2012.
The quarterly sewer rates will increase by $1 per month, resulting in a monthly charge of $14 for residential properties, as of April 1. The increase is meant to contribute to funding the upgrades to the town’s Waste Water Treatment Plant.
Council also adopted the waterworks regulations bylaw and established water rates for 2012.
As of April 1, the base rate of water consumption is increasing by $1 per quarter for single family dwellings to $22 per quarter. The rationale for the increase is to help fund projects in the years 2012 to 2016, which will require the town to receive grants or undertake additional borrowing.