Revised Ladysmith budget gets nod

  • May. 9, 2011 9:00 a.m.

The Town of Ladysmith was scheduled to pass its updated five-year financial plan on May 9.After much discussion and examining of the city’s finances, obligations and needs, council agreed to an overall tax increase of 4.26 per cent.

The residential increase will be 4.96 per cent, 3.18 per cent for commercial properties and no increase for industrial. The increase will mean the average home, pegged at just over $307,000, will see their tax bill rise around $65 for municipal tax.

The water and sewer parcel tax will also be increasing $30 (to $100) and $60 (to $154) respectively to help pay for several projects needed in those departments.

City manager Ruth Malli said the town was turned down for early approval on two grants (but still are in the process for approval for both), so the city needed to increase the water and sewer parcel tax to be in a position to complete the water system and sewer treatment plant upgrades if they don’t receive grant approval. So in all, the average home tab should be around $2,238, plus $254 for parcel taxes.

This year, homeowners are eligible for a North and Rural Homeowner Benefit grant of $200. Homeowners living in their homes will now be eligible to collect $770 in grants, knocking down the total to $1,468 (plus parcel taxes). Last year the tally, with the regular grant of $570, was $1,593 (plus parcel taxes). The grant does not apply to businesses or people with rental properties.

Malli said staff have been told the extra $200 grant will be a yearly benefit. Town staff had to go back to the operations budget to look for ways to bring down the tax increase and incorporate some new projects at council’s request.

Those included the secondary road to the Ladysmith Maritime Society Docks, improvements to Wickham Park and $42,000 for the stabilization for the amphitheatre, to commence after a risk assessment.

The town will also be putting an additional $50,000 in to a vehicle replacement fund to help the fire department purchase new vehicles and $10,000 will be taken from the Occupation Health and Safety budget to address safety and health concerns at city hall, including carpeting that is presenting a hazard.There are 3,480 parcels in town’s borders, meaning they will collect a total of $348,000 from the water parcel tax and $532,224 from the sewer tax.

The money raised through the water parcel tax will help go towards the South end to Arbutus reservoir pipeline, extension of the low-flow toilet rebate and repairs to the Stocking Lake Dam and the water line crossing Holland Creek.

The money collected from the sewer tax increase will be going towards funding the Liquid Waste Management Plan and future sewer treatment plant improvements.

Councillors interviewed by The Chronicle agreed there is no such thing as a good tax increase, they were comfortable with the final figures.

Coun. Scott Bastian said the process is always daunting, even though he has been through it five times.“It’s always an uncomfortable situation. Any increase is criticized by the community.”

Bastian said the work is far from over and it is now up to council to communicate their decision to the public.Coun. Lori Evans said from her perspective, the budget shows the city is investing in infrastructure for the future.

“Given the number of projects that have been completed this year and the need for reserve funding should things happen, that’s the way it had to go,” said Evans of the increase, adding she is pleased with what the city is getting for its dollars.

That being said, Evans noted people’s salaries don’t go up with the tax hike and even modest increases can be a hard pill to swallow for some.

Coun. Jill Dashwood said the process was a stressful one for her as the town had to weigh out what it had to do versus the impact to local pocketbooks.

“I think we’ve been really responsible in what we’ve been doing,” said Dashwood.The expenses have to be paid somehow, noted Dashwood, who said residents are going to have to pay now or later for growth.

“We had to do it,” said Dashwood.“We’re putting a little bit aside,” said Dashwood of the money raised through the water and sewer parcel tax. It works for the best this year, said Dashwood, as many homeowners get the benefit of the $200 grant.

Dashwood also said even though they’ve had to go over for their grant-in-aid budget, the groups supported are essential to the community.

Coun. Steve Arnett said the process was crunched into a very slim time slot and would like to see it started in the fall.

Arnett said the should be room to look at the operations budget on an ongoing basis, such as the money on professional development and consultants.

“There are a number of other things where you can say, ‘Can we shave that or are there other ways we can be efficient and still be effective.”

Arnett said it is not the town’s job to raise or lower taxes, but to look at the need for public services in terms for value for money.

Coun. Bruce Whittington also noted it’s hard to make ends meet these days, whether you are a family or a whole town.

“Like a lot of communities, we are facing the fact of deteriorating infrastructure.”Ladysmith is in good condition, said Whittington, but noted planning needs to be done for the future.Whittington is also comfortable with what they are asking of residents, as lower tax increase at the expense of services is not acceptable. “You can’t get first-class services in a first-class community without paying for it.”

Coun. Duck Paterson said he was expecting a painful process, but was pleased in the end.Paterson said he also feels the increases are reasonable.

“I hope people appreciate what they have in the community. Unfortunately, things we want cost money.”Paterson noted there are a few big ticket items on the town’s list including water and sewer upgrades and a new fire hall. “There’s those issues that are going to have to be addressed soon and we have to start putting money away for these things.”

The budgeting process has been one The Chronicle has been covering for several weeks. We have been looking at projects being considered and the rationale behind them.

Visit www.ladysmithchronicle to go back over coverage of the budget and keep reading as we look at some of the projects on tap.