Is it time to cut municipal spending?

By David F. Rooney

The Chamber of Commerce has joined the chorus of voices calling on the City to curtail its spending and rein in property taxes.

In a formal submission to City Council regarding the draft 2013-2017 Financial Plan the Chamber suggested overblown expectations of growth both in terms of our population and economy have been proven false.

“The announcement of the expansion of Mount McKenzie in 2007 began a major change in our community,” it said.

“There was an estimated expectation of a significant increase in population and, in turn, the infrastructure and City services and resources that would be required to meet this growth. Many factors contributed to the lack of anticipated growth and our community has remained stable, albeit with a somewhat different population demographic today. The recently completed Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP) stated that ‘the permanent population of approximately 7,924 is expected to grow only by approximately 200 by 2031 unless there is an unexpected driver for population growth.’ The Chamber is in agreement, as is the 2013 Financial Focus group in that ‘we need to align our spending to reflect that reality.’”

The Chamber says that municipal operating expenses have ballooned from $9.5 million in 2006 to $16.5 million in 2011 on to a budgeted $19.9 million for 2013.

“It is understandable that the City began to prepare for a development and population growth through staffing in areas of planning and social infrastructures,” the report says. “However, it is no longer sustainable to support the accrued operational cost structure given our current economic situation. The citizens of Revelstoke are facing substantial infrastructure upgrades within our City and we do not have appropriate reserves to finance these projects.”

This 10-page document sounds a lot like the report for Council that was created by this year’s Financial Plan Focus Group of Dale Morehouse, Betty Sloan and Nathan Weston.

“The draft plan reflects Council’s proposed cost of living increase (2%) to sustain status quo operations, plus a further one‐time tax increase of 3% in 2013 to reduce debt, plus increases of 15% to sewer and 2% to water rates,” they said in their report to Council.
“We do not support this direction as we feel it reinforces an unsustainable approach: an ever increasing tax burden to support a continuous growth in spending. We see how the 3% tax increase intended to reduce debt, is eaten up with spending. Not only does
debt not reduce, it grows further with the borrowing of another $2M.”

Calling Council’s Financial Plan “ really more of a budget forecast than a financial plan they said it doesn’t deal with they call “the most important issue facing the City – long‐term financial sustainability.”

“We believe a more far‐reaching approach is needed,” they said. “As part of Council’s commitment to fiscal responsibility we would like to see the development of a strategy that focuses on long‐term financial sustainability. Partly visionary, partly policy, partly tactical, it should lead to rationalized service deliverables matched with realistic resourcing strategies and supporting tax policies, all that align with the values, objectives and realities of a changing Revelstoke. It’s an opportunity to address the recurring tensions of affordability, service expectations, services supporting growth, and tax burden.”

Neither group is saying anything terribly new. The loudest criticism of Council since at least 2011 is that it spends too much money.

Both documents clearly throw the City’s draft financial plan back into Council’s lap. How Mayor David Raven and the six men and women who sit at the Council table will respond remains to be seen.

Should they heed these warnings or forge ahead?

What do you think?

Please click here ( to read the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce’s budget document.
Please click here ( to read the Focus Group report.