TOUGH DECISIONS AHEAD ON SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET
KAMLOOPS — An outdoor artificial skating rink, another police officer, more transit hours, funding for the Thrive Festival and a new performing arts centre were among the two dozen requests put before council today, which if all approved would add $2.37 million to the 2014 budget.
The tax increase is currently sitting at 1.87%, or just over $30 per average household, but with the supplemental items could jump to nearly five per cent. For councillors like Arjun Singh, who would prefer to keep the hike under two per cent, it means a lot of items will need to be cut from the supplemental budget.
Council was given the opportunity to ask questions of staff before the items are put before the public on Feb. 25 and subsequently decided on at a March 25 budget meeting. The first four items — a second domestic violence RCMP officer, a part-time city gardener, a business analyst and a study into a new performing arts centre — took nearly 45 minutes.
There was concern over the cost of a study when land hasn't even been secured. They debated whether an additional officer would make an impact in cutting down on domestic violence. They discussed the need for constant maintenance on parks and green space.
The topic quickly turned to the addition of a bus and 2,500 hours to the custom transit service (Handy Dart) and 6,000 hours and three buses to the conventional transit service. Nearly every council member weighed in on the discussion with a mix of comments and questions.
City Transportation Planner Erin Felker noted plans to streamline routes seven (Aderdeen) and eight (Battle) are in the works and would help improve load issues in those areas as well as make transit more attractive to users. She also noted the cost of transit is going up everywhere and is a problem many communities are facing.
“It's not just Kamloops, not just B.C. Transit,” she told council. “It's a challenge all transit systems are facing everywhere. Operating costs, fuel, wages, new requirements, technologies.... A lot of communities are struggling with this.”
Several councillors questioned whether a fare increase would help cover the increasing costs but Felker and CAO David Trawin both warned fare increases are not an easy fix.
“Fare increase can have relative impact,” Felker said, “but increasing cost could decrease ridership.”
“It's an inverse relationship,” Trawin agreed.
Because B.C. Transit requires 18 months lead time, agreeing to additional transit hours and buses will not have an impact on the 2014 budget but will impact the 2015 and 2016 budgets.
Council also questioned the Thrive Festival coming back for more money. The festival brought in about 1,000 participants last year but Coun. Tina Lange pointed out that with the city funding of $75,000 that means the city subsidized $75 per person that attended in the inaugural year.
“That's a big per person amount of subsidization,” Lange noted. “I thought it was supposed to be a one time thing, seed money, so they could have money in the bank to go forward.”
Arts, Culture and Heritage Manager Barbara Berger said the festival wants to consolidate going forward and that she thinks the event still has the potential to become a significant annual event. Thrive lost about $13,000 last year and Berger said without city funding it's likely the festival will not happen in 2014.
“The bare minimum they feel they could go with for a festival component is $25,000,” she said. “I don't think it would go forward (without city funding.) I don't think they would want to compromise the spirit of the event.”
Coun. Pat Wallace also said she thought the $75,000 approved last year was a one time thing.
“I would not have put my hand up (in support) if it hadn't said one time grant,” she told council.
Several items did not make it to the table Tuesday morning but council and the public will get a chance to question staff about all the items on the supplemental budget Feb. 25 from 7-10 p.m. at Interior Savings Centre.
Council will then decide what to take off the table and what will make it into the final budget on March 25 and then on April 8 the budget will be finalized.
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