Lake Country Coun. Penny Gambell asked staff during a special budget meeting Tuesday night if there was another way to fund a new fire hall other than a tax increase.
Staff are proposing a 4.9 per cent tax increase in the fire specific area to help fund the new fire hall and a 3.8 per cent hike on municipal taxes. A portion of the municipal tax hike, 1.8 per cent, would go towards the Transportation for Tomorrow Plan.
“The increase of 4.9 per cent is required to fund the debt that will be incurred for the new fire hall, future renewal for the new hall and an adjustment in service contract revenues,” according to a report that was presented during the meeting.
For the average house, the cost would amount to an increase of $160 annually, including $90 for the new fire hall, $32 for the transportation plan and $38 in general taxes to address inflation including a 1.5 per cent increase in salaries for district employees.
Gambell suggested using a portion of surplus funding to fund a portion on the hall.
Chief financial officer Tanya Garost said while the referendum allowed the district to borrow $6.6 million for construction of the hall, the total cost of the project is about $9 million. The tax increase would allow the district to potentially have to borrow less.
“Four-point-nine per cent does seem scary, but it equates to $90,” she said.
Gambell asked if was possible to cut costs in other ways, and Garost said cuts could be made to capital projects and at the operational level, but she would request the direction of council of what to cut.
Coun. Blair Ireland said council should press on with the hall, as the public was made aware during the referendum of what the cost would be.
Coun. Cara Reed asked if a tax increase could be split, using a 2.5 increase over the next two years instead of a 4.9 per cent hike. Garost said that would be possible.
Ireland asked what the downside to be to that if council decided to split the cost, and Garost said less debt would be offset by not paying it off right away as well as pressures the district experiences every year, but it wouldn’t be a huge detriment.
The district’s operating budget for 2019 would be $31,022,265, which includes $13,548,225 in property taxes which represents 44 per cent of all revenue collected.
As the district continues to grow, the report recommended adding additional staff including an accounting clerk, two engineers, a landscape construction technician, an RCMP officer, a communications specialist and an occupational health and safety advisor.
The cost of the new staff would amount to $466,813 with additional staff salaries totalling $42,205, which equals $687,868.
While there was some discussion from council on the hiring of a new communications specialist, to deliver targeted messages to the public, council unanimously supported the hiring of a safety officer.
Coun. Cara Reed found that porch meetings with Carr’s Landing residents were effective in delivering a message, but Ireland disagreed, as he said he’s seen meetings of that nature completely fail.
Staff recommended approving the new positions because of the volume of work required with the district’s growth. The new RCMP officer would be hired in early 2019 for 2020.
There are also 60 capital project and equipment requests in the proposed budget, totalling $20,021,500 They include a health and safety program update, Swalwell Park upgrades, a new playground for Beasley Park and crosswalk upgrades for Lake Hill Drive.
General government projects would include office furniture upgrades, which would cost $15,000, computer hardware costing $80,000, a communication and public engagement plan costing $25,000 and a safety program’s update totalling $74,500.
Council also decided to defer the first, second and third readings to increase water consumption charges for its residential, multi-family residential, commercial, and seasonal irrigation customers from $0.60 dollars per cubic metre to $0.78 per cubic m, as per the request of the Water Services Advisory Committee to a meeting in January.
Coun. Blair Ireland asked whether water increases can be done on an annual basis, to keep up with inflation, rather than all at once and if increases to the agricultural sector’s could be examined.
Garost said it was possible to do so.
Councillors also reprioritized capital projects for 2019 including moving a pool feasibility study, which would cost the district $50,000, back. A community agricultural plan will be partly funded by the district of $30,000 and will seek a grant to cover the other half, and a heritage strategy, community survey update and parking strategy were deferred until the 2020 budget.
For the full report of the financial budget, visit the District of Lake Country’s website at https://lakecountry.civicweb.net/FileStorage/43E4ABA8D7F44A6BB66AA8659023B255-Draft%202019-2023%20Financial%20Plan.pdf.