March 13, 2013 - 10:42 AM
By Jennifer Stahn
After a marathon session lasting nearly five hours on Tuesday, Kamloops city councillors approved a 3.55 per cent tax hike for Kamloops homeowners.
Determined to reduce the proposed rate of nearly 7.5 per cent to a more acceptable level, council weighed in on and debated nearly every addition to the budget, from projects worth several thousand dollars to nearly a million dollars.
The nine council members looked at every requested addition outside of the operating budgets and only a handful of requests made it through the first round of cuts without any discussion. The longest debates came around establishing reserve funds for the Tournament Capital Centre and the addition of two new RCMP officers.
Council was told the centre is reaching its life expectancy on several items and council decided set a budgets to take care of those items in the next couple of years—most notably the roof over the Canada Games Pool.
Councillors were asked to approve two new RCMP officers to help cover domestic violence and mental health incidents and after a lengthy discussion over whether mental health should be part of RCMP duties, council initially agreed to both officers, then later reduced the RCMP request to one officer.
Council will also use a $1 million surplus from last year to help reduce tax implications this year and shelved plans for several new staff positions to keep costs down. A dog park in Juniper and a water park in Westsyde were also removed from the budget, though council agreed to to set aside $20,000 annually towards the water park.
Mayor Peter Milobar said he started off hoping the tax hike would be at two, and then three per cent, but noted “every so often you have a year like this, it's the worst I've seen in my 10 or 11 years around the council table.... I can live with it, I'm not happy with it by any means.”
Councillors Tina Lange, Ken Christian and Pat Wallace echoed Milobar's thoughts, each saying they are now comfortable with the rate. Wallace worried if the city lets maintenance slip because of too many cuts, it would cost even more in future years. Lange said council was playing catch up this year because they went too low last year.
The 3.55 per cent tax hike means the average homeowner, with a house value of $340,000, will see an increase of about $60 on their tax bills. Council will discuss rate costs for residential, business and industry before ratifying the budget on April 9.
Other notable items council agreed to keep in the budget:
Odour bed for sewage treatment on River Street ($340,000)
Hydrovac truck which removes the need to rely on contractors ($475,000)
Septic truck ($250,000)
Street light at Finlay Court ($19,000), two lights at Bestwick Drive (a request for six lights a on Todd Hill were denied)
Parkside Lounge maintenance ($25,000, original request was for $50,000)
Renovations to John Todd School for Boys and Girls Club ($905,000 to be funded from capital reserves)
Onboard computers for bylaw vehicles ($14,000 this year and next, original request was for $28,000 this year)
WiFi expansion in city buildings and facilities such as Tournament Capital Centre originally ($39,000 recommended, council agreed to half that amount.)
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013