Grand Forks city budget receives first stamp of approval

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
March 12th, 2013

Increasing taxes are in the plan for Grand Forks residents as council considers their $11 million 2013 budget.

Following an open house for public input into the upcoming financial plan, Roxanne Shepherd, the city’s chief financial officer, presented council with a five-year financial plan at their meeting on Monday, Mar.4. The full impact on taxpayers will not be determined until council approves the budget and Shepherd can then calculate actual tax rates.

Part of the impact on the city is the loss of tax rebates as a result of the change from harmonized sales tax back to the provincial sales tax – a loss, said Shepherd, of 5.25 percent.

“When you look at 5.25 percent it doesn’t look like a lot, but it will be quite the squeeze, it could be between $50 – 100,000 on our budget,” said Shepherd.

There also is a decrease in the annual grants received from the province of about $187,000, Shepherd added, although some of the 2012 grant has not been used and will roll over to 2013.

An additional consideration for taxpayers in this year will be the increases from the West Kootenay Regional Hospital Board.

“The hospital district board did approve going from a $1 million reserve to a $2 million reserve. I’m looking at the amount of increase for that and it’s not substantial, but it is a reminder that we collect taxes for a number of different provincial ministries,” added mayor Brian Taylor who sits on the hospital board on behalf of the city.

Shepherd agreed noting that less than half of resident’s actual tax bill stays within the community while the remainder is distributed to different levels of government from the regional district, hospitals, schools to the provincial level.

Some of the capital expenses for consideration in this year’s budget include a new fire truck. fire chief Dale Heriot explained. They are looking for a new built-to-order ladder truck that will not arrive for nine months. Heriot said that if the truck is not replaced it can impact not only the city’s insurance rates, but that of home owners in the fire coverage area. The current ladder truck was purchased 20 years ago and will soon not be approved by insurance carriers. There will be an open house planned at the fire hall for the public to have an opportunity to look at the plan and give some feedback on the purchase.

Operationally, staff are immersed in the review and improvement of infrastructure based on the plans approved by council last year. Crack filling and sealing on roads throughout the community which will extend road life without costly replacement will be contracted out this year, explained Hal Wright, manager of operations.  The goal is to purchase the crack sealing equipment in this year’s budget to reduce future need for contractors.

“Some of our roads have gone beyond the point where we can do crack sealing. I want the public to know that we’re working on addressing those other projects, for example, those on 68th Avenue and 22nd Street, and other areas in the community. We’re actively looking at these things and we’re looking at patching work but some of those… are going to be tied into the multi-utility projects so we’re asking the community’s patience for one more year of waiting for these rougher sections (to be done),” said chief administrative officer Doug Allin.

Sasha Bird, planning, development and engineering manager, outlined the infrastructure work planned for 2013 for roads, water and sewage totalling around $3 million using borrowing approved in the 2012 referendum and grants from higher level governments. An additional $215,000 is proposed to be dedicated to furthering the asset management plans in the coming year.

Lastly, Wayne Kopan, environmental and building construction services manager, suggested that two 30-year-old furnaces need replacement and that lighting fixtures be replaced in city facilities to new efficiency lights starting with public works and city hall buildings.

The plan was approved as presented and will go to council’s meeting on Monday, Mar. 18 for reading into bylaw.

As part of their discussion, council and staff added that in the coming years they would like to host a more open budget process, perhaps involving the public at every step of the budget discussion.

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