Ladysmith Council working toward a 4-5% tax increase

Town of Ladysmith staff and council have to make some important decisions about taxes, fees, projects and priorities

It’s that time of year again when Town of Ladysmith staff and council have to make some important decisions about taxes, fees, projects and priorities, and council’s financial plan discussions continued April 14 with a look at water and sewer fees.

Every year, the Town charges water utility fees, and those are used to fund water operating costs.

Staff is recommending that council increase the quarterly water base charge by $1.05 and increase each step by $0.05, effective for the third-quarter billing. As well, staff recommends council include a policy in the 2014-18 Financial Plan to increase the water rates, by bylaw, by $1 to the quarterly base charge and increase each step by $0.03, effective each year on Jan. 1.

“It’s not a radical amount, but increasing year after year, we’ll be able to pay for some of these projects and put some money aside,” said Erin Anderson, the director of financial services.

This increase works out to $0.35 a month extra for 3,400 users, noted Mayor Rob Hutchins.

Staff is also recommending council increase the water parcel tax by $20 per year to $130 per parcel, which works out to $1.75 a month.

“It is a very reasonable price for a precious resource,” said Coun. Gord Horth.

Both of these increases were supported by council.

Council also supported increases to the sewer utility fees, while the sewer parcel tax will see no change and stay at $269 per quarter.

Sewer utility fees will increase by $1 a month to $15, effective for the third-quarter utility billing. A policy of increasing the sanitary sewer rate monthly charge, by bylaw, by $1, effective each year on Jan. 1, will also be included in the 2014-18 financial plan.

In terms of property taxes, nothing is set in stone yet, as council and staff work to find an increase that everyone can live with.

When council and staff first started discussing the financial plan in late March, they were looking at a property tax increase of about 3.14 per cent, and Anderson says that with some general capital projects moved forward, it’s now around 3.65 per cent.

Anderson says the Town’s budget is increasing $265,223 from last year to this year.

The Town’s current policy is to shift the tax burden away from major industry (Class 4). Council wants to reduce the share of property tax paid by Class 4 by at least two per cent over the years 2015-18.

At the April 14 meeting, council also decided it wants to continue with the current policy of the residential (Class 1) tax increase being no more than five per cent after new construction figures and the Class 6 (commercial) increase being no more than half the residential class increase. Council also directed staff to increase the reliance on Class 8 (recreation/non-profit) by the amount of the assessment increase.

Councillors said they would be comfortable with a residential tax increase of four per cent but no more than five per cent.

“It’s important to note that within this budget, where it stands now, this is not providing new services — it’s just maintaining,” said Horth.

The Town’s financial plan must be approved by May 15, and council will make more decisions in the coming weeks.