Revelstoke city council held its regular meeting on Jan. 14. The agenda was mostly housekeeping items not hot-buttons. Here’s a brief grab-bag of the newsy items, followed by a look ahead at the upcoming public phase of the budget process.
Big Eddy Water Conservation Plan
This plan was adopted. It spells out a number of steps the city plans to take to encourage and enforce water conservation on its new water system in the Big Eddy. An engineering department report notes the Big Eddy water system overhaul project was funded by a $3.8-million federal grant, and the conservation plan is a requirement to get the remaining $1.5 million of that grant released. The conservation report contains many boilerplate steps, such as education and awareness, but also mentions a study of industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) water metering. According to a staff report, construction on the Big Eddy water system is 90-per-cent complete, and the remainder of work will be completed in 2020.
Pinecone sculpture lease
Council okayed a public art committee request to fund a a new public art sculpture for the planter box in front of city hall. Revelstoke metal artist Kyle Thornley’s sculpture entitled “Pinecone” will be installed at the end of April and will be in place for the year. The city is leasing the sculpture for one year for $5,000.
For more on the artist Kyle Thornley, see this 2019 feature from Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine on the artist.
Minimum dwelling size limits dropped
A bylaw that struck minimum dwelling sizes from city bylaws was adopted. A staff report says the minimum size will now be set to the BC Building Code, which already spells out minimum size requirements. The report said the change was made to allow more flexibility.
New senior planner
Although there has been no announcement from the city, it has hired a new senior planner, Paul Simon.
Council has held a series of budget meetings at the committee level in the past several weeks, but the various documents presented in those sessions have not yet been compiled into a final proposed budget. As usual, the city’s infrastructure deficit is the real underlying story, with many pressing fixes and repairs racking up the bills.
The budget is expected to be presented soon and more deliberations will follow, leading to proposed budget that will go out to community for comment. The Mountaineer has been keeping an eye on the budget meetings and will update once the budget proposal is published and numbers are available.
However, there are several major issues for discussion during this cycle.
Forum roof repairs
An issue that has long-term financial implications for all taxpayers is a plan to start roof repairs on the Revelstoke Forum at a cost of $2.75 million.
Staff has called for immediate repairs, and the city has not yet heard back about a $12.3-million grant city staff applied for in early 2019.
Will the repairs go ahead? Will the city commit to renovating the existing facility instead of building a new one? What are the financial implications for taxpayers? It’s a fluid situation that all depends on whether the city is successful with its grant application, but without it almost any path forward requires the city to take on significant debt, triggering the “alternative approval process” whereby residents can write in to oppose borrowing for a project, essentially forcing a referendum.
The tax implications for the estimated $13.64-million project can easily run into several hundred dollars annually per household, setting up a ballot-box battle. The city’s parks and recreation department had planned on a public consultation process on long-term plans for the Forum, including exploring options such as a new facility, but due to a tight deadline on the 2019 grant application, that didn’t happen. Will it now?
In a response to our question, city parks director Laurie Donato said the city hadn’t heard back about the grant application, but hoped to very soon.
It all hinges on the grant application, but will spending $2.75 million on a Forum roof commit the city to renovating the existing facility? What will the new debt be on the roof repair? Will the public have the opportunity to provide input on plans and options?
Mayor and council raise
Last year, council discussed voting a significant raise to mayor and council salaries. A recent city report spelled out the mayor’s increase from $30,600 to $70,000 per year and council salaries from $15,300 to $25,000 annually, but the changes would come into effect at a later date.
The issue has been discussed at the committee level since, but the final proposed raises, including the timeline of raises, will be spelled out in the final budget document. There was some discussion about the mayor’s additional significant remuneration for sitting on the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District board, and whether it should be assumed future mayors would take do the same, as some municipalities send councillors as the regional district representative. At a recent meeting, city staff informed council that there already is a raise structure for council, something that seemed to take most councillors at the table by surprise.
Currently, council’s raises are indexed to union staff wage increases, but the system requires staff to bring the increase forward during the budget process.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort reassessment
Another big issue is a hole in the city budget created by Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s successful classification appeal, which was revealed by the Mountaineer in June 2019. For background, read this story first:
How will council deal with the new permanent revenue decrease? A key issue will be how it will affect the balance between commercial and residential taxation. The reassessment, which knocked about $550,000 annually out of the city budget, also resulted in the reclassification of condos from commercial to residential, shifting the balance between the two categories significantly. The division of tax burden between various assessment categories is essentially the final step in the budget process. Without an adjustment in the ratio between commercial and residential rates, commercial taxation will increase significantly.
About a decade ago, the Revelstoke Chamber led a tax revolt against what they felt was an unfair distribution between the two classes. It’s unclear how this key issue will play out, but the implications of a significant policy on taxation ratios will have many downstream effects on property taxation.
Early staff reports budgeted $392,000 for the city’s Official Community Plan update and $185,000 for the zoning bylaw update. Will the update to these two key documents survive the budget process at full funding?
The city’s zoning bylaw dates from the early 1980s, is wildly behind the times, and is the root cause of most development-related controversies in the community, as larger developers are forced to use the comprehensive development zone process to advance large projects, and smaller builders revert to variances and workarounds to cobble together projects.
The antiquated zoning bylaw, adopted when Dallas ruled TV screens, a four-car driveway was part of the Canadian dream, and climate change wasn’t yet a thing, also significantly restricts investment in denser housing forms and kills many initiatives before they see the light of day.
The reassessment, on top of the usual infrastructure deficit woes, will create a temptation for council to raid reserve funds to lessen the tax shock. However, having reserve funds allows the city to leverage provincial and federal funding opportunities when they arise. The budget document should shed light on the plan.