Town council focused on reducing costs

Faced with increased library and policing costs, council explores potential reductions to balance its ledger and cap tax hike at 5 per cent.

The Town of Ladysmith continues to look at ways to reduce costs after council reiterated its desire to keep the residential property tax increase below five per cent — before taking into account other external taxes.

Ladysmith council held a special meeting Monday, March 25 for more discussion on the Town’s 2013-17 Financial Plan.

The Town is required to have a balanced budget every year, and staff continues to review the budget and make reductions as it attempts to keep the property tax increase between four and five per cent, as requested by council in earlier discussions. When the 2013 preliminary budget was presented in mid-February, that increase was at 9.22 per cent — including the library and policing taxes.

This year, the Town of Ladysmith is faced with an increase of $159,415 for RCMP services and an increase of $17,222 for library services, and with those and other service requests, it’s difficult to get to council’s desired four-to-five-per cent range, explained Erin Anderson, the Town’s director of financial services.

“We’re still looking at whittling it down … we’re still above the desired five-per-cent rate,” she said.

Cuts have already been made for administration, and the Town has saved money through hiring delays, but staff asked council to look at other areas for reductions such as cutting down trolley service, shutting down the Frank Jameson Community Centre for an additional week, hiring fewer Parks summer maintenance workers, reducing recreation programs and cutting other service  levels.

“Your target of four to five per cent without the RCMP and library increases is achievable, but with these costs, it will be very difficult to do,” said city manager Ruth Malli. “Obviously, any cutback is on the table. It’s a lot more challenging this year than it would be.”

Essentially, the increases in policing and library costs mean a 2.5-per-cent tax increase.

One of the areas for reduction that council looked at was trolley service and transit. The Town of Ladysmith is expected to begin service with BC Transit this September, and staff wondered if council wanted to look at cutting back the trolley service before this transition, such as cancelling the trolley on Saturdays.

Council also floated the option of delaying the start of BC Transit service to Jan. 1 if that would result in significant savings. BC Transit only orders buses twice a year, so Malli explained that council’s options would be to order the buses now and pay just the lease costs from September to January or wait until the next ordering in April, but pay for the  Cowichan Valley Transit service from January on.

The Town has currently budgeted $60,000 for four months of BC Transit service in 2013, starting in September. Council did not have all the costs in front of them at the meeting and did not make a decision.

During the meeting, council gave first, second and third reading to the Waterworks Regulations Bylaw, which establishes water rates for 2013.

The bylaw sets the base rate for metered service for each individually metered single-family dwelling unit at $22.45 per quarter, with charges coming for use over 25 cubic metres.

With this bylaw, the base rate for metered service for all other users would also be $22.45 per quarter, with a charge for any use over 25 cubic metres. For non-metered service, the flat rate per unit is $39.80 per quarter.

Council also gave first, second and third reading to the Sanitary Sewer Rates Bylaw, which establishes sewer rates for 2013.

The bylaw sets the monthly sewer rates for residences or apartments at $14.30 per residence or $14.30 per unit in multi-family buildings.

Both bylaws still need to be adopted by council before coming into effect.

If the bylaws are adopted, water rates will go up 45 cents per quarter, while sewer rates will go up 30 cents per month.

These rates are not related to the parcel taxes, noted Anderson.

 

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