Budget decisions still up in the air as talks continue

Village of Burns Lake mayor and council continued their budget discussions last week.

Potential municipal water and tax rates are still up in the air.

Village of Burns Lake mayor and council continued their budget discussions last week starting with another discussion on potential water and sewer rate increases.

As previously requested by Coun. John Illes, water and sewer rate comparisons from other B.C. municipalities were provided to councillors, via a report prepared by village deputy director of finance, Carla Fox.

Annual residential water rates are; Burns Lake – $164.76, Houston – $230, Smithers – $176, Vanderhoof – $233, Fort St. James – $158.28, Fraser Lake – $158.28, Granisle – $183,

Annual commercial non metered water rates are; Burns Lake – $464.25, Prince Rupert – $723.50, Vanderhoof rates [set by the size and type of the business, the number of employees and number of bathrooms] vary from $252 to $1243, Houston also vary from $360 to $760, Fort St. James – $270, Fraser Lake – $362, Granisle – $183, Smithers – $183, Terrace – $204.

Annual commercial sewer rates; Burns Lake – $423.58, Telkwa up to $754, Terrace – $118.80, Houston – $175 to $400, Fort St. James – $168, Granisle – $165, Prince Rupert – $119.

A scenario was also presented for a proposed 15 per cent increase in residential water rates.

The proposed increase would only apply to residential rates and would see residential rates increase from $164.76 per year to $189.47, providing the village with an $11,146 increase in revenue.

Councillor Susan Schienbein said she is not opposed to looking at increased revenue collection for water and sewer rates, but she said it has to be done thoughtfully.

“We are a small municipality, with a small tax base,” she said.

No final decision was made on an increased rate was made during the meeting.

Worthing also updated councillors on the provisional recreation budget.

She said the proposed recreation programmer position that was included in the 2012 budget, as reported in the Lakes District News edition of Dec. 7, 2011, has now been removed. The position was created to help village recreation coordinator Logan Wilson with extra programming however Worthing said the position should take a back seat to the up and coming arena referendum. Worthing said slashing the position will free up approximately $60,000 in funds, which will be reworked into the recreation budget.

She also said that with a proposed five per cent increase in municipal taxes for 2012, there is a balanced general operating  budget, but no funds have been set aside for the downtown revitalization project or the community heating project in 2012.

The provisional budget for the public works department was also reviewed by councillors during the meeting.

Proposed equipment purchases for 2012 include $12,500 for a Sullair compressor, $11,500 for a pressure washer and steamer, $20,000 for a ride on mower and $6,500 for a bobcat auger.

“Rick [Martin, director of public works] feels that these pieces of equipment are necessary right now,” said Fox.

Repairs to the fitness stations at Spirit Square are also scheduled for 2012 and projected to cost $6,500. The fitness equipment was installed in 2009.

Councillor Frank Varga asked why the fitness stations, which are only a couple of years old, would already be scheduled for repairs? “Is this due to vandalism, or is this a design fault? They are only two years old,” he asked.

Martin said, “It’s a little of both. The concrete holding the fitness stations in the ground has broken loose which has resulted in the fitness equipment tipping and moving around. It’s partially due to vandalism through rough use.”

“Is the concrete not deep enough? This could become very expensive if this problem keeps coming up in the future,” Coun. Varga said.

Councillor Schienbein said that when the fitness stations were installed she noticed that despite orange tape being put around them, people were climbing all over them and using them while the concrete was setting.

“I don’t know how we could stop that from happening again … other than 24 hour surveillance …. is there any volunteers,” asked Coun. Illes.

The waste collection provisional budget was also presented to councillors with Fox saying there is a projected $31,085 loss in 2012.

The purchase of new style garbage bins is costing the village $43,868, which Fox says will be returned through the sale of the new bins to locals. Despite the projected loss, $20,000 is being put away in reserves. Equipment maintenance costs and administration costs have also increased. Worthing said to Lakes District News the funds are for the maintenance of waste collection equipment as well as the administration cost charged to public works for providing the waste collection service.”

To cover the deficit, Fox said council would have to increase garbage collection rates by 40 per cent or $32 per resident. Village residents are currently charged $81. A 40 per cent increase would see the charge bumped to $113 annually. She said commercial rates would also need to be increased by $72, up to $252 in order to create a balance budget.

“I think we should increase the rates,” said Coun. Illes.

“I think we should look at needs and wants and cut the wants out of the budget,” said Coun. Schienbein.

Councillor Illes said that he suggested increasing the waste collection rates to cover the budget deficit, rather than a general increase in taxes. If the rates were to be increased to cover the deficit, he said he would then recommend a zero per cent increase in taxes.

Worthing said she checked back and couldn’t find an increase in the village’s garbage collection rates for the past 15 years.

“I am hearing discussions of raising rates and taxes, but there are some things in this budget that are wants and not needs. Our residents can only afford so much at a time and I have to be comfortable to take this budget back to my constituents,” Coun. Schienbein added.

“I think it would be worthwhile to see the whole budget broken down. Our capital plans are huge and some of them, like the resurfacing of Eighth Avenue, we have been putting off for years. We need to plan for proper tax increases. To meet our goals we need to have a 10 or 20 per cent tax increase every year to meet these targets. Realistically we don’t need to bump things off the budget. If something is really important then we need a tax increase each year to achieve it. If not, we shouldn’t even put these projects on the budget,” Coun. Illes said, adding that now the Eighth Avenue project is bumped to 2014 on the budget, the residents may think that this will be achieved. “They won’t think it will just be bumped to 2017,” he said.

Fox said, “It is important to remember that some projects may look ‘pie in the sky’ but these are goals that we set to work towards and to see if there are grants that we can capture.”

“They shouldn’t be on the budget. If they are, then we have to get them done. Eighth Avenue … how do we do that if council is against tax increases? We are going to have to tell people that Eighth Avenue is not going to be paved … it might be getting patched, but it’s not getting paved,” Coun. Illes said.

“Instead of looking at exorbitant tax increases … we need to stagger our increases to make them more palatable. This is not acceptable … you are talking about tax increases of 10 and 20 per cent and I am not prepared to go down that road at this point in time,” Coun. Schienbein said.

Mayor Strimbold said he also liked the idea of staggering in tax increases.

Councillors agreed to bring the 2012 provisional budget back to the council table again, for further discussion.