No-frill budget buffers tax increase

Services, staffing review promised by district

It’s a no-frill budget for the District of Hope although taxpayers will still be facing a 5.3 per cent increase for 2011.

Over the last few months district managers and council have been meeting to crunch the figures and despite cuts to projects, the average homeowner will be facing an increase of an estimated $80 in property taxes.

In total the district will see $5.49 million collected this year from property owners.

A number of factors have impacted this year’s budget, said Hope’s new director of finance, Parissa Aujla, in presenting her first budget.

Aujla noted that over the past few years capital projects have steadily eaten away at reserves, water and sewer rates have not kept up with the cost of maintaining and replacing aging systems, gas and other necessary costs have jumped, including a 3 per cent CUPE wage increase this year.

Being too reliant on grant funding and not having a solid policy on making regular contributions to capital reserves for future expenditures is also a slippery financial slope for the district, noted Aujla.

Hope council had directed staff to base this year’s budget and five-year capital plan on a five per cent increase, while maintaining existing services. And while the 2011 budget could be considered treading water, changes are expected in 2012 as staff review a number of “future actions”.

According to the district, their own staffing levels, wage premiums, public services, as well as all fees are under review in anticipation of a tight 2012 budget.

We have to find out for example whether the taxpayers want a premium level of snow removal, a minimal level of snow removal or a combination of both, noted Aujla.

In order to balance the budget next year, while maintaining roads, sewer and water systems, the district must again make up an approximate $1 million dollar shortfall.

This year the shortfall was made up through deferring a number of projects previously planned for 2011.

Projects hopefully moving ahead this year, however, include continuation of the re-paving of Flood-Hope Road, a water main project for East Kawkawa Lake, a bike/pedestrian lane over Richmond Hill, sidewalks along Sixth Avenue and along Kawkawa Lake Road, and continued work on the Coquihalla River Dyke. Most of these projects, however, will not move ahead without provincial and federal grant funding.

“In a nutshell, our revenues are clearly not keeping pace with our increasing operating costs,” added town Manger Earl Rowe, in his report to council.

“The 2011-2015 financial plan reflects council’s priorities of attracting jobs through economic development, while doing the best we can to maintain municipal assets in a reasonable state of repair,” added Rowe.

“There is no magic to what we need to see happen. We need increased assessment, a sharp eye to limiting expenditures, increased revenue from service delivery, and, or – larger property tax rates. Those are the only options to make up our steadily worsening infrastructure deficit.”

“Actively pursuing economic development opportunities is the right strategy to get back on track and with Advantage Hope in place we are well on the way,” added Rowe.

The independent economic development office dubbed Advantage Hope opened early this year and is funded by the district.