Projected 3.5 per cent hike most likely
Though there is still another day set aside for council to hear budget requests for the various departments, it seems likely the 3.5 per cent projected tax raise will go through.
There were few surprises as presentations from entities like Initiatives Prince George, Tourism Prince George and the library were made Wednesday, with each meeting the city’s goal of a zero per cent increase for 2013.
The public consultation component, explained by communications manager Chris Bone, brought a mixed response from council. An on-line survey posted Feb. 1 on the city’s website brought in 75 responses, a much better number than in previous years. Three years ago there was one response while last year 20 people responded.
However, as Coun. Albert Koehler pointed out, 75 responses aren’t enough to provide a good reflection of what the residents of the city the size of Prince George want.
“The sample number is not big enough to come to the conclusion this is what people want,” Koehler said.
“Seventy-five people responding when there are more than 70,000 in the community is piddling, and in my mind not very significant,” Coun. Dave Wilbur agreed.
However, Coun. Garth Frizzell pointed out the response is three-fold what it was last year, a comment also made by Coun. Cameron Stolz.
Stolz mentioned those who did respond seemed to agree for the most part they were dissatisfied with the state of the roads in the city.
“I’m very interested to see the priorities,” he said. “It’s interesting roads had the highest number of dissatisfied votes and the fewest very satisfied.”
A portion of the expected 3.5 per cent tax increase this year reflects a one per cent raise for road rehabilitation.
A new fund for general infrastructure investment makes up another one percent while 1.5 per cent reflects the rise in inflation, something the city currently bases on the consumer price index.
The index is based on the price a consumer pays for a typical basket of goods, and fluctuates per month, said acting city manager Kathleen Soltis. Many municipalities currently base this calculation on the municipal price index, which is the same philosophy except what is within the proverbial basket are items a municipality would normally purchase, like asphalt.
Generally a municipal price index is much higher than the consumer price index considering the price for things like asphalt can increase, for example, by 14 per cent.
The new fund for infrastructure initiated a discussion among councillors regarding what is being done at the provincial and federal level to aid municipalities facing aging infrastructure issues.
Frizzell, who is on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), said the gas tax, money returned to the province and historically used for infrastructure, has been made a permanent fixture, making uncertainty and constant lobbying unnecessary. However, he pointed out in 2014 everything could change.
The fund, however, doesn’t go directly into city coffers but to different bodies.
“There is a special B.C. way the tax is allocated out,” he said.
Coun. Murry Krause, who sits on the Union of B.C. Municipalities board, said infrastructure is an ongoing concern. One thing local governments need is more flexibility with the funds they are given.
“Most local governments know where the money is needed,” he said.
Wilbur, who is on the North Central Local Government board, agreed.
“They need to relax qualifications so the need of each community can be met,” he said.
Added together, the three parts of the increase come to 3.5 per cent, far lower than the over seven per cent that was roughly projected at the beginning of the process.
The next budget meeting will be Feb. 13 at 3:30 p.m. with a dinner break from 5 until 6 p.m., then another opportunity for the public to express their concerns from 6 until 6:15 p.m.