Council passes its 2016 budget

By David F. Rooney

Despite the clear concerns of the Chamber of Commerce, City Council gave first, second and third reading to the 2016 – 2020 Financial Plan during a special meeting on Monday, February 29.

Mayor Mark McKee and Councillor Connie Brothers voted against the motion while Councillors Aaron Orlando, Gary Sulz and Linda Nixon voted in favour of giving it first, second and third reading. First reading traditionally introduces a bill or bylaw. Second reading traditionally sees it referred to a committee. Proposed bylaws or other forms of legislation are brought back for third reading. Traditionally, third reading signifies that they are passed and ready for adoption. (Please click here to read the description of this process in the Canadian House of Commons procedures and practices.)

This essentially approves the $20 million budget despite the local business community’s anxiety about taxation it believes threatens Revelstoke’s economic health.

The Chamber made five main recommendations to Council:

  1. Start the operating budget process on August 1 of each year;
  2. Create a 10-year plan for Infrastructure and Asset Management;
  3. Provide clear, consistent financial data and statements;
  4. Conduct an Independent Core Review to reduce spending and increase efficiency; and
  5. Improve the fairness of the business tax burdens.

During a PowerPoint presentation to Council on Monday afternoon Chamber Executive Director Judy Goodman said Revelstoke needs a new formula for tax contributions by the business and residential sectors.

“The residential versus business properties have not varied substantially from an 80/20 base,” she said in her presentation. “An expectation of 50% of tax revenue from 20% of the assessment base is simply unrealistic. Our community can no longer sustain this imbalance. A new formula for tax contribution by classification must be adopted.”

The Chamber specifically recommended that Council adopt a new model for calculating fair and equitable tax contributions of residential and all business classes. It also recommended that the 2016 – 2020 Financial Plan “be adjusted to achieve a 2:1 Class 6 business to residential ratio by 2020.”

Council listened politely but went ahead and approved the financial plan as presented.

This Council has repeatedly insisted that municipal budgets should not be passed at the last minute (as has historically been the case in Revelstoke). Work on this particular budget began last fall and was put out for public comment at the end of January.

It’s also apparent that the general public pays little real attention to the Financial Plan. Aside from comments from the Chamber and retired architect Eileen Fletcher there were no public comments about the budget that were directed to City Council. (Some comments were published in the local news media, but in the eyes of government those do not count as true comments made as part of the public process.) Sadly, most people can’t bothered participating in this kind of public process unless they feel that taxes are going through the roof. This budget forecast increases of 2% for Class 1 (residential), 4.6% for Class 2 (utilities), 1% each for Class 4 (major industry), 5 (light industry), 6 (business) and 8 (seasonal). The issue as the Chamber sees it is that business property taxes are responsible for 50% of the City’s overall tax revenue while the business property is just 20% of the assessment base. They want that ratio lowered.

The Chamber would also like to see a serious review of the City’s core services and a determination of its efficiencies and inefficiencies. But that, too, may be unlikely at this point.

The comments of Mayor Mark McKee and the four City Councillors — Gary Sulz, Aaron Orlando, Connie Brothers and Linda Nixon — who attended the special meeting are interesting to listen to, beginning at about the 58-minute mark on the video below.

You can activate the YouTube player below to watch the special Council meeting: