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City could hold line to zero per cent increase on property taxes

By Timothy Schafer, The Nelson Daily

A zero per cent rise in property taxes is one of the options City council is flirting with as they head into the final throes of budget deliberations.

With Nelson property owners already facing three potential hikes in rates from the City’s corner — including water (nine per cent), sewer (seven per cent) and Nelson Hydro (9.6 per cent) — council has the power to ease the burden of the burden they could inflict on Nelsonites in two weeks when the budget is passed.

On Tuesday night at the Nelson Library, City manager Kevin Cormack delivered a Coles Notes version of the budget, detailing the three options council will vote on in a special meeting Monday, Feb. 28 (9 a.m.) in City council chambers.

The three options include a zero per cent property tax increase, a one per cent or a two per cent increase, with the latter two helping to contribute funds towards a contingency building reserve, something the City is in dire need of, said Cormack.

However, Mayor John Dooley noted that a zero per cent increase could provide a measure of respite in the onslaught that is expected from the three necessary City increases, as well as the yet-to-be-announced increases from other taxation sources (regional district, health board and school board).

Around 45 people, which included numerous City staff members, heard that the City planned to deliver a status quo budget that would have to absorb around $460,000 in increased labour costs in a $40 million total operating budget.

In devising a status quo budget, said Cormack, the City still came in with a $743,000 shortfall in operations. They will be able to make up the different — without raising taxes — by a reduction in training and travel ($81,000), services ($25,000 for the skunk/raccoon removal program), utility savings ($20,000) and staffing reductions ($202,000).

The staffing reductions would come from not “backfilling” in some areas, said Mayor Dooley, or replacing retiring or leaving staff members.

Not backfilling in some areas is an opportunity to restructure, he said. The service is examined to see if it can be delivered in a more efficient manner, and then it is decided if the position needs to be filled or not.

Public Works has been without one position for one year and they haven’t filled it because there are some retirements coming up, said Mayor Dooley.

“We are looking at where we can re-jig the whole system, and it may work better without backfilling that position. Sometimes it can take up to one year to do that.”

But the City won’t be handing out any pink slips to reduce staff.

“You can reduce the amount of staff all you want, but then you are going to reduce service?” asked Mayor Dooley.

“I would say, in my experience, we are not overstaffed by any means. What we are is over serviced.”

Every year the City adds one more piece to the puzzle. It’s a small city with big city ideas, but that’s the makeup of the city, said Mayor Dooley.

“I think we are on a very good path but, guess what, it doesn’t come free. There’s a certain cost to that.”

Fee increases to bylaw ($10,000), parking (meter rise, $106,500), the campground ($20,000), transit (fare increase bringing in $18,750) and revenue from development services ($30,000) and the Youth Centre ($12,000) account for the rest of the shortfall.

Over 40 per cent of the City’s revenue comes from taxation.

There was no surplus realized in 2010, although there is still a $600,000 general surplus carried over from previous years.