Nakusp council gets its first look at the budget

Last Thursday I sat in on a 2.5-hour meeting as Nakusp council got a look at a preliminary version of the 2014 budget.

They were presented with a look at what it would cost for the village to maintain current services, as well as a list of funding requests for projects staff is considering.

From a newsworthiness perspective, it wasn't really worth my time, other than getting an insight into the budget process.

Councillors were shown a PowerPoint presentation filled with slides with lots of numbers comparing 2013 spending to projected 2014 spending. It was a chance for them to review the numbers and get an idea of where the finances stood before embarking on the budget debate.

As Rob Richards, the village's Chief Financial Officer, stressed to me afterwards, the numbers were preliminary and did not represent an actual budget. "It was simply a presentation of staff's recommendations for council's consideration," he wrote to me in an e-mail. "None of the discussion should be construed as council debate — or an indication if they were favourable to the proposed items or not."

A more elaborate discussion was scheduled for a special council meeting on Monday, Feb. 17. Councillors will give first readings of the budget at their Feb. 24 meeting.

So, what did council see? They were presented with numbers for 2014 that were based on last year's results, with a few general assumptions made regarding things like wage increases, hydro rate hikes, increased taxation from new development, recycling csosts, and a few other items.

Revenue is projected to decrease to about $1.26 million in 2014 from about $1.28 million in 2013, but spending is also expected to go down to about $1.25 million from about $1.27 million in 2013. Savings are in the administration, parks and recreation, and emergency services building, with increases to run the fire department, hot springs, and public works.

The Cedar Chalets are projected to bring in $11,300 in revenue to the village.

There are challenges — notably in building up the village's reserves, said chief administrative officer Linda Tynan, but also lots of great work being done. There is some uncertainty surrounding the hot springs and Cedar Chalets now that the village owns the latter.

More interesting was the list of funding requests council was presented with. They ranged from $2,500 to do some repairs to the squash court to $40,000 to purchase a generator for the hot springs. Other requests included new uniforms for the fire department, more funding to the Chamber of Commerce to run the visitor centre, lighting along the waterfront path, leveling the ground at the cemetery and bringing in broadband service.

Council gave a quick thumbs up or down on whether to include those projects in the first draft of the budget. On some items, like the hot springs generator, they asked for more information.

There was lots of informal discussion but the real debate was expected to begin when staff presented council with a draft budget at at a special meeting on Monday, Feb. 17, which I did not attend. An official budget will be presented at this Monday's council meeting.

Priorities will have to be made. As mayor Karen Hamling pointed out to me after the meeting, a one per cent tax increase only raised about $8,000 in revenue, so there's not much room to increase revenue without either big tax increases or finding grant money.


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