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City budget meeting poorly attended

City of Castlegar Director of Finance Andre Buss (front left) and councillor Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff (right) discuss the proposed budget with the public at the Community Forum on Tuesday. - Craig Lindsay
City of Castlegar Director of Finance Andre Buss (front left) and councillor Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff (right) discuss the proposed budget with the public at the Community Forum on Tuesday.
— image credit: Craig Lindsay

The City of Castlegar held a public meeting on Tuesday at the Community Forum building to go over the 2012 budget and five year financial plan. Residents were encouraged to mingle and talk with councillors and city staff regarding the upcoming budget. Only seven people took advantage of the opportunity to learn about the budget and have the chance to provide feedback.

"You're looking at maybe seven people here," said Castlegar mayor Lawrence Chernoff. "The thing is everyone talks about communication and there's every opportunity to inter-mingle with council and senior staff on the budget."

Chernoff said the public has plenty of opportunity to engage city staff and councillors at both public forums and using social media and other resources.

"There's the phone, there's the website (www.castlegar.ca), there's Facebook, there's Twitter. People don't need to do it in person, they can do it privately," he said.

Andre Buss, The city's director of finance, gave a slide slow presentation detailing the proposed budget. In addition, the walls of the forum were decorated with posters detailing the breakdown of the different sections of the budget.

"The next step is we're asking for the public's input and there's every opportunity," said Chernoff. "Like anything else, the public needs to seize that opportunity and say, 'hey, I will participate in the forum.' It doesn't even matter if it's this forum or online. It doesn't matter how you participate - just participate."

The budget is in the draft stage. Chernoff says there will be another budget forum in February where citizens will have another chance to engage council and city staff. Final approval for the budget is expected in March.

"There's lots of options to look at the budget and participate," he said. "It's not just the dollar figure, maybe there's something you'd like to see done that's not on that list in capital projects or whatever. You want to say, 'here's my input. I think this is a great idea. Can it fit in?' and we'll consider it. We talk about communication and this is a key communication. This is a huge document. There's a lot of money involved in what we're doing."

The estimate for taxes and charges for 2012 for a representative house in Castlegar is $1,907. That number is up $58 from 2011. That includes $744 for municipal taxes, up from $709 in 2011; $738 in school taxes, up from $724 in 2011; $352 in regional district taxes, up from $345 in 2011; and $72 in hospital and other charges, up from $71 from 2011.

The total estimated taxes and charges for a typical representative house in Castlegar for 2012 is $2,676, which included $1,907 in total taxes plus $769 in user fees.

In comparison, Nelson's total taxes from 2011 are $3,900 which includes $2,788 in total taxes plus $15 for parcel taxes plus $1,097 for user fees. Trail's comes out lowest of all West Kootenay towns at $2,571 for 2011, which includes $1,822 in total taxes, $150 in parcel taxes and $599 in user fees.

The average total taxes for 2011 were $2,175 for towns and cities in the West Kootenay. The total taxes and charges including parcel taxes and user fees were $3,049.

The 2012 budget for Castlegar authorizes approximately $9.5 million in capital projects. Major projects include: Water Treatment Centre, which is required by provincial regulation = $1.2 million; Airport Water System Extension project = $1.5 million; Millennium Park enhancement project = $1 million; Completion of South End Water Reservoir = $894,000; and Airport Sewer System Extension project = $680,000; and Residential Water Meter program = $500,000.

Despite the low turnout at the meeting, there were some strong points made from area residents.

Sandy McCreight of Castlegar wants to see more emphasis on helping with the aging senior's community.

"When we pay $30,000 a year to have flowers but don't have access for our elderly people to have a ride in a cab or whatever it is to get to a medical appointment, that's quality of life," she said to city staff during the meeting. "We talk about arts and culture but I'm talking about the basics. Maybe it's about re-directing, maybe it's about holding those above at different levels accountable but I think it's something that needs to be addressed."

City Chief Administrative Officer John Malcolm pointed out that the city is responsible for infrastructure as well as garbage and sewer, while senior's housing and other issues fall more under the provincial and federal umbrella.

"I think our provincial and federal governments are dropping the ball on what's happening with some of the planning," said McCreight to the Castlegar News. "I think in the Kootenays we're going to have much bigger representation of elderly than a lot of communities. I think that needs to be looked at and taken into consideration by our local council. Now whether that means re-allocating funds they already have or working with some other organizations to get funding or whether it means holding other levels of governments accountable. I think it's something that needs to be looked at."

 

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