By David F. Rooney
Is a budget with a zero per cent spending increase possible? That’s what Council wants and it has sent the current draft financial plan back to senior staff so they can do just that.
At the tail end of a three-hour special Council meeting on Tuesday afternoon, January 21, Councillors unanimously (with the exception of Steve Bender who was out of town) told senior staff they wanted two budgetary options:
- A financial plan based on a two per cent residential tax increase and a one per cent business tax increase; and
- A budget based on a two per cent residential tax increase and zero per cent hike in business taxes.
The first draft of the City’s financial plan envisioned increases of 3.9 pr cent for residential and business taxes.
There is a further proviso: Council made it clear they want a budget that comes as close to zero spending growth as possible. Staff may have to cut about $200,000 in spending in order to fulfill Council’s wishes. A statement issued by the City on Wednesday afternoon said that “although the original budget schedule targeted the January 28 regular meeting, an additional week is required to address this new mandate.” Council will not now see the spending estimates until February 4.
The City hasn’t seen anything in years that comes this close to zero growth in municipal spending and it is clear that Council paid attention to the many concerns presented to Council by ordinary citizens at the January 14 Town Hall Meeting as well as supplementary documents provided by the Chamber of Commerce, Social Development Coordinator Jill Zacharias and Revelstoke Mountain Resort. More importantly, they clearly heard the anger and frustration that underlies public concerns about City spending and taxation.
Councillor Linda Nixon led off with a call for more than $100,000 in cuts but was swiftly followed by Councillor Chris Johnston who wanted deeper cuts and a reduction in taxes.
He said Council “could live with a two per cent increase” and demanded that staff come back with “a shopping list” of cuts to do just that. He said Councillors are not prepared to go line-by-line through the budget identifying things that can be cut. Senior staff know perfectly well what can and cannot be cut, he said.
That was swiftly echoed by Councillor Gary Starling.
“I agree with Councillor Johnston that we need to find something palatable for the public,” he said, adding that “it’s a no-brainer.”
Phil Welock wanted senior staff to identify $300,000 in cuts. Depending on how the new estimates (based on the two options mentioned above) shake out that could well be the end result.
“My main concern is that our operating expenses are going up every year,” said Councillor Tony Scarcella. “We have to put a stop to that.”
Mayor David Raven cautioned that at some point the question of what gets cut and what is retained is the responsibility of Council — not staff. So there is likely more debate ahead as Councillors, who are up for reelection this year, grapple with the perennial City spending issue.
Is a zero per cent budget achievable? Maybe. Is it desireable? Maybe not.
“I lived here during all those years when we had zero-growth in the City’s budgets,” Councillor Gary Starling noted in conversation during a Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Wednesday, January 22. “A lot of things didn’t get done because of that and now we’re forced to play catchup.”
Staff will nonetheless try to fulfill Council’s demands.
“We’ll see what’s achievable,” Chief Administrative Officer Tim Palmer said at the end of the public portion of the meeting.
On a related note, many of the 130 citizens who attended the January 14 Town Hall Meeting later expressed concerns that their questions might go unanswered because — with a couple of exceptions — neither the mayor nor the councillors who were there responded to anything that was said. The last item on the agenda for yesterday’s special Council meeting was a list of responses to the questions posed at the Town Hall Meeting by 32 people. Please click here to read the official responses.