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BEPPLE: Does Kamloops need to cut services to decrease a potential tax hike?

Image Credit: Compilation/Jennifer Stahn
January 22, 2016 - 12:56 PM

It’s budget time at the City of Kamloops, and with it comes a long list of requests from both the bureaucrats and the public. It’s council’s job to sift through the requests and decide where to spend our tax dollars.

Actually, to be correct, it’s supplementary budget time. The core budget was agreed to in December. Just before the holiday break, the council has already agreed to maintain the level of services, such as the number of RCMP officers the city pays for, hours of operations at the TCC and the number of fire halls the city operates.

What is being discussed now is additional spending on additional services.

Pickleballers, those mostly seniors who play a game that is a mashup of tennis, ping pong and badminton, want additional courts in the city to meet growing demand. The rugby club wants money to help build their clubhouse in Rayleigh. City engineers want an additional $1 million to deal with extreme weather from climate change. There is also a request for money to look into upgrading the Pioneer Park boat launch.

And the list goes on.

This year, just like every year I can think of, Coun. Tina Lange asked a key question. What is going to be taken out? What services will be cut?

A typical supplementary budget includes some housekeeping items like roads and other infrastructure, as well as some nice-to-haves, like new recreational facilities or programs.

So this year, Coun. Lange asked whether some of the smaller parks, found scattered around the city, could be closed. Those are the parks that take up one or two city lots and have a teeter-totter and a swing set, or something similar. The supplementary budget had quite a few requests for more spending on big parks, so what Lange was asking was whether something could be taken out of Parks and Rec’s budget to balance things out.

There are always additional requests for more, but more rarely are there requests for cuts.

What Lange is really asking for is a subtractive budget. Rather than staff presenting recommendations on what to spend money on, Lange is asking for a list of what services and employees to cut.

But that is unlikely to happen in Kamloops anytime soon. The City of Kamloops is in a fairly strong position fiscally. The tax increase is projected at about two per cent, and could go lower once the supplementary budget is finalized. It is always easier for politicians to give than to take away.

If city council proposed closing a neighbourhood’s park, that neighbourhood would come out in force to protest. No matter how little a park was used. Cowan Park is a good example. That neighbourhood was extremely vocal when the council proposed closing the little-used park. Closing a neighbourhood’s park would not be easy.

I agree with Lange’s basic premise of balancing new services with cut services. But I also know that politicians are loathe to take flak from the public.

It’s not that politicians can’t make cuts. For instance, a few years back, the City of Penticton was faced with a $1.9 million deficit which would have required a 7.3 per cent tax hike. To avoid that steep of an increase they cut the number of RCMP members, money for public art, money for their arena, training costs and a host of other items.

But City of Kamloops taxpayers aren’t facing a 7.3 per cent tax hike. The proposed rate increases is about two per cent and could go even lower depending on how much of the supplementary budget is or isn’t adopted.

Given that policing costs is the largest item in the city budget, Kamloops could save a lot of money simply by reducing the number of RCMP officers. But there isn’t a public demand to do that. If the City of Kamloops was facing a 7.3 per cent tax hike that might make sense, but not currently. The same could be said about closing small parks.

But what else could be cut is the bigger question that Lange is asking.

On Feb. 16, there will be a public consultation budget meeting in the evening. That’s where the public is asked what items on the supplementary budget should stay, and which should be cut. It’s also a perfect time to present council with a list of things that could be cut from the core budget. To give council your subtractive budget.

Whether you’re passionate about pickleball, or agree with Lange that the city should consider closing small parks, that’s your chance to have your views heard.

— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016
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