Highest recommended tax increase avoided by council | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Highest recommended tax increase avoided by council

From left to right: Rob Dickinson, manager of engineering and GIS for the city, Kevin Bertles, manager of finance, and Will Pearce, chief administrative officer.
January 17, 2013 - 1:47 PM

City council has chosen the lower of two tax increase options, despite a push by administration to select the other.

To deal with the city's aging and often failing infrastructure, administration urged council to opt for a 3% tax hike to prepare for the upgrades that will most certainly be required in the coming years. The 3% would be cumulative over ten years.

"Next year, it would be 6%, and the year after 9%," said Will Pearce, chief administrative officer for the city.

The other option, ultimately picked by council, entails a 1.9% increase.

Rob Dickinson, manager of engineering and GIS for the city, believes the 3% increase is extremely important, and gave it his best pitch.

"What happens when we have 20-30 roads that need work?" Dickinson said, adding that because of building spikes through the '40s and '80s, Vernon is facing an impending collapse of infrastructure. He said if the city waits too long to upgrade roads and sewer lines, they might face a situation where they have to "walk away" from certain structures that are too far gone to repair.

He told council the intent of the tax was to have a dependable source of income for ongoing projects. The goal, he said, is to replace structures not after they break, or 20 years before they're due for repair, but to upgrade them at a point when a total breakdown can be prevented.

Coun. Catherine Lord suggested a moderate increase for this year could be remedied by a larger increase by future councils.

"I expect next year we would just be recommending more," Dickinson said.

Coun. Brian Quiring sided with the administration, who he believes are expert eyes on the situation.

"We have inherited a broken machine," Quiring said. "We need to be responsible even though it's not a popular decision."

He said the city would be forced to borrow more money, something he doesn't want to do.

Coun. Mary-Jo O'Keefe also supported the three per cent hike, noting deficit is a big problem all over the country that isn't helped by more borrowing.

Coun. Juliette Cunningham worried about the impact on small businesses. "I'm pretty close to them, and I hear their struggles," she said.

Coun. Quiring said he was aware of the impact on the community, especially landlords with empty buildings downtown. Still, he said committing to a three per cent increase was essential to ensuring future generations don't inherit the burden of failing infrastructure.

Even though Mayor Rob Sawatzky said, "If we don't believe in the professionalism of our staff, we have an issue," council decided to go for the 1.9 per cent increase.

—Charlotte Helston

News from © iNFOnews, 2013

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