Revelstoke city budget public consultation document out for comment

Comment period on the city budget is open until Mar. 12 with a public session planned for Mar. 7.

File photo: Revelstoke city council at their Feb. 12, 2019 regular meeting. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

The City of Revelstoke is now accepting public comments on the proposed 2019 draft budget.

At their Feb. 26 meeting, city council approved a public consultation document. It is a condensed version of the longer draft budget document. The document is embedded at the end of this story.

The public input period is from Feb. 27 to Mar. 12. The city will be hosting a public budget comment session on Mar. 7.

Document provides consolidated numbers

During budget discussions, there was some controversy at the table and in some councillors’ social media posts about what the actual tax increase would be. The public consultation document provides some clarity on the final calculations.

The dispute wasn’t about the numbers themselves, but rather how they are added up. The basic budget increase outlined in the document is 4.5%; however, that does not take into account increases to water and sewer rates, which are in separate funds. In December, council voted to increase both fees by 10%.

In addition, proposed new staff positions were pro-rated for half of the year in 2019, since the new hires wouldn’t be made until halfway through the year. Coun. Steven Cross argued that the de facto perpetual percentage increase was higher than 4.5%

The Mountaineer followed up with city finance director Tania McCabe on the perpetual cost of the proposed new staffing positions, including a new communications director and development services manager. She said that once the new staff positions were fully funded, it would add an extra 0.7% to the budget, so the effect of the proposed new hires once they are fully funded is about a 5.2% increase.

Of course, this does not include increases to utility rates on water and sewer.

Breakdown for typical homes

An infographic provided in the consultation document shows the tax increase on typical homes.

City of Revelstoke infographic shows the effect of proposed 2019 City of Revelstoke tax increases on homes of different values. Image: City of Revelstoke

While the public tends to focus on the percentage increase, the infographic above does make the case that there could be more focus on fee increases. On a home valued at half a million, the total tax increase is $80, while the fee increase is $74 — or almost as much. For homes value less than $500,000, the fee increases soon become more than the tax increase as the property value decreases.

Another breakdown on the increases

A City of Revelstoke document shows increases by category in 2019 on a home valued at $389,413, or the average-valued house in Revelstoke. Image: City of Revelstoke

It’s difficult to make blanket statements about tax increases because not all residences get the same services. If you’re on septic, you don’t pay sewer. Same with those using water wells. The chart above breaks down increases based on an average valued home. Based on the figures provided for the average-valued home above, the percentage increase is 6.18%. However, that percentage will vary on homes with higher or lower values than average.

Communication challenges

The recent debate at the council table has focused on the final numbers, and the percentage increases. Also, because items like new staff hires were itemized as separate, individual council resolutions on the council agenda, a lot of the limelight was focused on debates over those new hires. In addition, some councillors took to social media on those particular items, again, centre-staging a few particular items, such as whether to hire a communications staff role or not.

There are many other significant issues to talk about in the budget, such as long-term debt, infrastructure fund levels, significant capital projects, debt repayment, infrastructure projects, general city priorities expressed by the document, and more. More to the point, how does this budget reflect (or not) the goals councillors expressed during the election period several months ago?

At their Feb. 26 meeting, councillors spoke of the need to do outreach and engagement on the budget. During the meeting, city CAO Alan Chabot noted that there hasn’t been a lot of engagement in the budget process in the past. Usually, when the percentage increases gets floated out to the public, there’s some sharpening of pitchforks and lighting of torches, but detailed responses to the documents are few and far between. (As a side note, if you’ve actually made it this far in this budget story, congratulations, you’re among an very select group of city hall budget wonks.)

If you’re thinking of providing feedback, the public primer document below is a good start.

2019 Revelstoke budget public consultation document by Revelstoke Mountaineer on Scribd