Regional district runs a tight ship

Where do your Regional District of Bulkley Nechako tax dollars go?

Where do your Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) tax dollars go?

As the March 31 deadline for the RDBN final budget approaches, Hans Berndorff, RDBN financial administrator, Bill Miller, RDBN chair and director of electoral area B, and Gail Chapman, RDBN chief operating officer, presented a Feb. 21, 2013 draft budget to village of Burns Lake council.

Property taxes for region-wide services have been on a steady decline from at least 2009. In 2009, property owners paid $103.86 per $100,000 in property value. In 2013, property owners are projected to pay $77.87 per $100,000 in property value.

Berndorff attributed the largest part of this decline in RDBN property tax to an increase in the industrial tax base, with projects like the Mount Milligan Mine coming online.

The RDBN is bound by a different set of rules than a municipality like the Village of Burns Lake.

Where the Village of Burns Lake council has the latitude to move funds around to balance the budget – and aren’t even bound to have a balanced budget – the RDBN doesn’t have this flexibility.

It must produce a balanced budget, with all services paid for by their own user tax base. Funds cannot move between services as properties within a service area are taxed for those services, and not services used exclusively in other tax areas.

Some regions and municipalities share a portion of the RDBN tax base. For example, regional rural districts B and E contributed $443,326 to the RDBN services found in Burns Lake, including the Tom Forsyth Arena, the Burns Lake Public Library, TV rebroadcasting, lakes economic development, the John Baker Airport and other services.

In 2012, property owners in Burns Lake paid $312,217 into RDBN region-wide and local service.

Rural property owners within the Burns Lake fire protection area also pay into the Burns Lake fire department through RDBN taxation. Those outside the fire protection area don’t receive fire protection services, unless other arrangements have been made for cost recovery.

The 2013 provisional budget projects $1,742,000 in taxation, with hefty draws on capital reserves and previous budget surpluses to cover the cost of large 2013 expenditures. Previous RDBN surpluses of $2.6 million, and another $1.4 million in capital reserves, will be used to cover the difference between tax revenue and expenditures.

The two biggest costs in 2013 will be the $3.1 million Burns Lake hospital replacement, and the $2 million Vanderhoof outpatient renovations. Other major expenditures include: the Vanderhoof chemistry analyzer ($49,200), Fort St. James electrical upgrades ($160,000), and Fort St. James air handling upgrades ($100,000).

“Working together, we really benefit our region,” said Chapman as she described how the RDBN has been able to bring in over $1 million annually through successful grant writing. Grant applications have brought $6.4 million into the RDBN in the past six years.

Lobbying by RDBN elected officials and staff has also meant that 80 per cent of the Burns Lake Hospital replacement will be provincially funded.

Overall, the projected 2013 RDBN budget for region-wide and regional rural services is expected to be $69,555 higher than last year’s budget.

The increase, from $4,614,307 in 2012 to $4,632,862 in 2013, will not be shared evenly by rural and municipal taxpayers. Because of the service user base, rural taxpayers will see a 1.5 per cent increase to RDBN taxes while municipal taxpayers will see a 1.8 per cent decrease.