The Village’s operating budget this year is “fiscally responsible”, says the chief adminstrative officer.
Laurie Taylor was commenting on the preliminary budget delivered to village council on Feb. 26.
The budget calls for a three per cent tax increase. However, that’s been cut to just 1.6 per cent, after a transfer from the Hot Springs in lieu of property taxes.
For the owner of a $300,000 house in Nakusp, that works out to about $21.80 more annually.
“In council’s opinion, that’s a very fair increase,” says Taylor.
The big picture
The village budget isn’t huge — in all, about $2.52 million a year. The biggest expenses are adminstrative costs, at 17.3 per cent (that includes grants to the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations). Parks and recreation eats up about 15.7 per cent of the budget, while public works take about 13 per cent of the budget. The rest is made up of water and sewer costs, fire services, the Hot Springs and debt servicing.
The biggest line items driving up the budget this year are snow removal and wage increases for staff, says Taylor. The village settled a new contract with its unionized workers late 2017.
The CAO says that drives up other costs, like snow removal and parks maintenance, forcing them to make cuts to try to balance the budget.
“We are tightening out belt in other areas” to keep taxes down, says Taylor. “We’re really watching any materials we buy outside of capital projects. We’re not purchasing some things, postponing others for a year.
“One example of a purchase we’re not making is for a new telephone system for the office, which we need desperately.”
The preliminary budget offers councillors several choices if they want to balance the budget. Some of those options include cutting staff, increasing taxes, find new revenue streams, or increasing the debt. About the only practical one, however, would be cutting staff. But Taylor warns that would have consequences.
“If they want us to keep taxes down, it’s going to mean a cut in services,” she says. “If we cut staff we cut services. We cut a public works employee, that means snow removal doesn’t happen as quickly.”
In all, the village’s expenditures are expected to be higher than revenues by about $31,220. Each percentage increase in taxes adds about $10,000 to the village’s coffers.
Budgeting in hot water, so to speak
This year a $15,000 transfer in lieu of property taxes from the Nakusp Hot Springs has helped the village cut the proposed tax increase in half.
The Hot Springs were converted to a stand-alone operation this year. That means like the water or sewer systems, it is self-sufficient and does not rely on property taxes to maintain itself. Last year the Hot Springs revenues were $813,100. This year, they’re projected to be $853,100.
But Taylor says it “wouldn’t be wise” to think there’s more to be taken there.
“If they were taxable that’s the amount of portion the municipality would get, so that’s a fair transfer,” she says. “I wouldn’t recommend taking more because we can only justify what we would get for taxes. If it was privately owned, thats what we get from them.”
Another line item increasing this year comes from the water and sewer system. Council has previously approved a five-per-cent increase in sewer rates, adding about $21.50 annually to taxes. No increase in water rates has been budgeted for this year. Again, water and sewer services are mandated by law to pay for themselves every year. Council makes no extra revenue from providing the service.
One iceberg on the council’s budget horizon is the overdue replacement of much of the city’s water mains. A study commissioned by council projects a $5.1 million bill for the job (see “Village aging water mains need replacement, Arrow Lakes News, March 1)
“We don’t have that kind of money, the only way we can replace them is by grants,” says Taylor. “And there are no grants on the horizon right now to do that.”
More capital asset studies have been commissioned by the village, which are needed to apply for grants from senior levels of government. They’re expected to bring more news about the village’s aging water and sewer sytems later this year.
The tax bill cometh
In total, the village’s tax bill to homeowners will be about $900 for the average Nakusp home.
But that’s only a part of the bill people will receive from the village. In total, homeowners will pay about $2,000 in property taxes.
“People have to realize that [our portion] of their tax bill is not the entire tax budget,” she says. “It’s about 45 per cent of the bill. The rest come in money requisitioned from the school district, police costs, the regional district, the municipal finance authority and others. So on a $1,000 tax bill, we’re responsible for only about $450 of that.”
“But people complain to us about the whole amount, even though we have no control over much of it,” she says.
Council still has to consider the capital portion of the budget, which has to do with infrastructure needs. But Taylor says it should be relatively minor this year, with only the Hot Springs planning minor capital improvements.
Both the operating and capital budgets should receive final approval in April.