Council OKs staff to draw up 1.5 per cent scenario

Posted on Aug 19, 2014 in Media



140221_cityreorganize-300x168City council will get to see what a 1.5 per cent tax levy increase looks like, but won’t be holding itself to that number.

During Monday night’s meeting, the majority of council members were unsupportive of a proposal by Coun. Albert Koehler to cap the general tax increase in the 2015 draft budget at 1.5 per cent.

An amendment put forward by Coun. Lyn Hall was unanimously approved to include the 1.5 per cent limit in the work staff are already doing to prepare next year’s financial plan.

Setting the limit at 1.5 per cent would tie the hands of administration, a number of councillors said.

Last year, Koehler brought forward a similar proposal, to tie the tax levy increase to the rate of inflation. By the time council was finished with it, staff were directed to come back with a draft budget with no more than a 2.5 per cent levy increase.

Despite constant talk of infrastructure funding deficits and the recent sinkhole on Massey Drive and College Heights watermain break, Prince George isn’t collapsing, said Koehler, and it doesn’t mean taxes have to be raised above 1.5 per cent.

“It means the infrastructure maintenance backlog has to be one of the priorities of the coming budget,” Koehler said. “Let’s not throw things out of proportion.”

“If we would have went with the 1.5 [per cent] suggested last year… it could have wiped out all the sidewalks we paved this year. Or we could have reduced services and hours at the CN Centre, Kin Centre, the pool; we could have not mowed grass to make up that shortfall,” said Coun. Brian Skakun.

Setting a cap could limit the kind of debate council has around the budget table, said Hall.

“If we were to box ourselves in like this, it would be very difficult for council to have fluid conversations we’ve had in the past,” he said.

According to city manager Beth James, administration have already looked at budget models with tax levy increases in the three to six per cent range. The finance and audit committee will get to see those models during a meeting next Monday.

Councillors Dave Wilbur and Murry Krause both said they appreciated the intent of Koehler’s idea, but wouldn’t got so far as to support his motion.

“We need to know what’s needed in our community to make it thrive,” said Krause, explaining his preference for staff to present the issues and funding needs first.

Both Mayor Shari Green and Coun. Cameron Stolz expressed their desire to see what a 1.5 per cent tax levy increase would look like.

“I find it ironic discussion we’re having today,” said Stolz. “I find it ironic that having people paying increased amounts for the services they’re receiving is bad, but increasing taxes is now good.”

Supporting Hall’s amendment was the only way to get a look at what the 1.5 per cent increase scenario, said Green, given the fact it was clear Koehler’s motion was on its way to defeat.