Revelstoke city council made two amendments to the draft 2019 budget bylaw at their Feb. 12 meeting and then approved the draft, which will now head out for a community engagement phase before returning to council for final deliberations.
After a lengthy discussion, council opted to cut a proposed new sergeant position for the Revelstoke RCMP. The RCMP had originally requested a new sergeant and constable, but the new constable position was nixed in earlier budget discussions.
The other change was to limit new funding support to the Revelstoke Golf Club to two years. The draft budget had proposed funding the club with a new $50,000 annual payment, but that amount was limited to just the next two years.
The meeting featured a number of motions to either cut budget items, or make other reductions, but most of them were defeated.
Coun. Steven Cross proposed reducing the departmental operating budgets from a 2% increase to 1%, but that was defeated with councillors Jackie Rhind and Cody Younker supporting Cross.
Council approved a new communications director position, although councillors Cross, Rhind, and Younker were opposed.
The new development services manager position received unanimous support.
How much is the proposed tax increase this year?
It depends on who you ask. Following sparring between Mayor Gary Sulz and Coun. Steven Cross earlier in the meeting on the subject of social media posting, the pair again engaged in debate over what the tax increase actually will be.
Cross argued that with increases to water, sewer, and garbage rates approved by council late last year, the total increase is way more than the 5.3% posted in a brief table included in the council agenda.
“When do our citizens actually benefit from all the growth that Revelstoke has increased?” Cross asked. “We are looking at a total tax increase of over 10%,” Cross said. He also argued that because the city itemized water, sewer, and garbage increases in separate funds not included in the core budget, the increase was over 10%. He also noted that several of the new staff positions were only budgeted for partial salaries in 2019, since it would take time to hire them, so effectively the perpetual increase was higher than 5.3%.
However, mayor Gary Sulz countered that the increase is in fact 5.3%; he acknowledged that increases in water, sewer, and garbage rates were in addition to the core budget increase, but said that not all residents pay all those fees. For example, if you’re not hooked onto the sewer system, you don’t pay the sewer fee.
An tax impact statement presented by the city (before the cut to the sergeant position) expressed a percentage increased for the budget, and flat rate increases for other services. However, the increases to water and sewer rates were percentage-based, so it becomes difficult to reverse engineer the numbers based on the flat rates presented (not to mention a bit of a mug’s game).
The 15-year draft financial plan document presented on the Feb. 12 agenda had not been updated since changes have been made during the committee of the whole process, so it’s difficult to state definitively based on extrapolating from those numbers.
Based on the city financial department’s assertion of a 5.3% increase, minus the 2019 cost of the new sergeant position, which was line-itemed at 0.3% for 2019, that should put the increase at 5%, before the increases in sewer, water, and garbage are added on.
But these days, where everyone’s entitled to their own alternative facts, and with council members openly disagreeing at the table and on social media about what the actual tax increase is, who’s to say?
The city finance department typically posts a public-facing budget document soon after council approves a draft budget for public consideration. That document usually contains more meaningful, comparative breakdowns of the proposed increases. We’ll check back in with that document and provide updates when it’s published.
Update: Finance department puts base budget increase at 4.5%
The Mountaineer reached out to city finance director Tania McCabe for an update on budget forecast numbers.
McCabe said that the finance department was working on the public-facing explainer for the budget, and that it should be available on the agenda for the Feb. 26 council meeting.
She said the base rate, which was at a 5.3% increase (minus separate fees like water, sewer, and garbage) is now at 4.5%. She said the now-deleted RCMP sergeant position subtracted 0.3%, and that the two payments of $50,000 per year to the Revelstoke Golf Club would come out of the city’s financial stabilization reserve fund, which subtracts an additional 0.5% from the draft 5.3%, bringing the total increase down to 4.5%.