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City's 2% tax hike marks first increase in 3 years

Penticton fire inspector and union rep Mike Richards (in the red shirt) was unhappy at the city's final 2014 budget session after learning council voted no to replacing two retiring firefighters. This drops the number of firefighters to 30 from 32.
December 18, 2013 - 6:06 PM

CITY VOTES NO TO REPLACING TWO RETIRED FIREFIGHTERS

PENTICTON - Council will raise taxes by two per cent and take $182,000 from reserves to pay off 2014's projected operating deficit of $935,000. This marks the first tax increase in three years and a reversal of 2011's decision to drop taxes by .5 per cent.

This will means a person will pay about $27 in property taxes next year and can expect a five per cent increase in water rates and a 4.18 per cent hike in electricity rates.

Earlier this week the deficit was higher than $1 million but city leadership managed to cut items and find revenue streams to bring the deficit down for the final day of budget deliberations. The tax hike squeaked through a 4-3 vote with the support of councillors Judy Sentes, Wesley Hopkin, Katie Robinson and Mayor Garry Litke. Councillors John Vassilaki, Andrew Jakubeit and Helena Konanz voted no to the hike saying a two per cent increase is too much. They also worried about touching the $5.4 million of reserve funding.

Council spent Wednesday looking high and low for savings or revenue and nothing was left off the table. Council even decided to increase cemetery fees earlier this week.

The deficit was down to $549,215 at one point today but an argument over firefighting gear jacked the deficit back up to $685,000.

Chief financial officer Colin Fisher said $136,000 needs to be set aside in 2014 if the city ever wants to buy million-dollar firefighting trucks in the future.

Vassilaki doesn't want taxpayers paying for equipment they won't see this year.

"Let future generations pay for some of the stuff," he suggested, either through loans, grants or some other method.

Robinson disagreed.

"You can't put this burden on the future," she said. "It's not a responsible way to look at this."

Future fire trucks will be more expensive than their current counterparts and savings need to start today.

Earlier the CFO explained staff spent weeks looking for things to cut and he said possibilities ran dry.

The promise of future equipment might have been cold comfort to the city's fire department though as the city voted to not replace two retiring firefighters. This drops the complement down to 30 members and it might limit how staff attack problems, fire inspector and union representative Mike Richards said.

To contact a reporter for this story, to send photos or videos, email Shannon Quesnel at squesnel@infotelnews.ca, call 250-488-3065, send tweets to @shannonquesnel1 or @InfoNewsPentict.

UPDATE - This story was updated at 3:50 p.m. on Dec. 19, 2013 to include the tax hikes effects in a dollar amount and the addtition of water rate and electricity rate increases.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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