After months of political discord in Hope, taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief.
Council has decided to move forward with a zero per cent municipal tax increase this year. A 2.2 per cent increase was originally proposed at a public consultation meeting earlier this month, but council has opted to dip into a $5 million surplus to offset the $153,000 in property tax revenue.
“I certainly respect and appreciate the work that’s gone into the budget to date, but I believe we are personally in a position to offer zero per cent increase for the coming year in light of some new financial information,” said Coun. Ron Smith, who put forward the motion during Monday’s committee of the whole meeting. “I think its not only appropriate but fiscally responsible to do so in the interest of the public.”
The surplus was discovered by a financial consultant last October and is the result of accumulated unallocated funds from incomplete prior capital projects and other efficiencies found in previous operating/capital budgets that have been retained. Mayor Susan Johnston said that until recently council didn’t have the specific budget numbers to make an informed decision.
“We were all in the dark until we had some review of our financial position,” she added. “I personally caution the public to not think that this money can mean zero tax increases beyond this budget year. We will find ourselves in a sad situation if we do not at the very least meet the cost of living increase each year. We have some serious infrastructure to replace and repair and that money will dissipate quickly.”
Many of residents in attendance at Monday’s meeting see council’s decision as a step in the right direction for Hope.
“I am very happy to see that you’ve decided to go with the zero per cent tax increase. That was one of the major initiatives of our petition that we presented to you back in August,” said Ray Zervini, who spearheaded the petition last year. “The zero per cent sends out a good strong (message) that you are listening.”
The district projects an overall operating revenue of $10 million this year to cover $9.9 million in expenses. Capital project costs alone are anticipated to total $2.2 million. Coun. Scott Medlock raised some questions Monday night about specific line items in the budget, particularly $50,000 for a Memorial Park bandstand upgrade. Several councillors acknowledged the importance of investing in existing infrastructure and considering user group requests, but also the need to be prudent with finances.
Chief administrative officer John Fortoloczky confirmed that the remaining surplus will be the subject of forthcoming policy proposals for infrastructure re-investment and on-hand cash reserve levels in order to pay for upcoming capital improvements. It will also be used to buffer taxpayers from future increases.