The City of Castlegar held an open house Thursday evening looking for public input on the 2018 municipal budget.
About 20 residents showed up for the event.
Representatives from many of the city’s departments including finance, fire, parks, roads, water/sewer, corporate services and planning and development were on hand to answer questions and explain the scope of what their departments look after and what kind of projects they are handling.
Paper surveys were available as well as iPads connected to the city’s online interactive and educational Citizen Budget tool were available to encourage participants to share their thoughts. If you missed the meeting, the survey is available at castlegar.citizenbudget.com. The survey will be open through Nov. 19.
When using the budgeting survey tool, you are asked to make decisions based on your current satisfaction level with specific city services if you would like to maintain, increase or decrease the funding level. You then move a sliding bar and the tool calculates how much of an increase or decrease to your annual taxes that would be.
Castlegar’s new CAO Chris Barlow was also at the meeting and explained what the city was hoping to accomplish with the open house.
“To give the public an opportunity to come out and have some input into the budget process prior to the city and council going through their planning process,” said Barlow. “They can look at levels of service, as well as any projects they have had on their mind, or planned projects and ask any questions about those so that when staff and council go back to the budget process we will have the public’s input.
“Then when we bring it back to the public in January once we have a refined budget in hand, we will be able to show them what we are looking at.”
Giving the public some exposure to city departments was also a goal of the evening.
“So the public can interact with the staff and the staff can get to meet with some of the public and answer any long-standing questions they have had, and also talk about levels of service before they decide whether they are too high, or too low and understand exactly what is happening in the city,” added Barlow.
Gary Lebrun was one of the residents at the meeting, he moved here three years ago from Ontario. “I wanted to get more involved in what is going on … and ask a few questions,” he said.
One of the projects Lebrun wanted to suggest is a playground for the Woodland Park neighbourhood.
“Something that is good for the younger kids,” said Lebrun. “The city has to spend money, there is no question about that — it is what they spend it on and how they do it.”
Another component of the event and the budget tool is financial and taxation education.
“Everybody sees their tax bill and assumes that all of that amount is going to the city,” explained Barlow. “But really only a portion of that goes to the city — and then from within that, it gets broken down into all of the different departments. So much of the budget is within the fixed costs of the operations and maintenance of running the city. There isn’t this really giant amount of money that the city has a lot of play with.”
According to the budget tool, only 44.8 per cent of your tax bill actually goes to the city. Which is less than $1,000 based on the average home value in Castlegar. The remaining amount goes to things like provincial education (33.3 per cent), the regional district (17.7 per cent) and the hospital district (3.7 per cent).
Of the amount that goes to the city, the largest blocks of funding are for policing services (20.6 per cent), general government (16.5 per cent) and transportation services (16.5 per cent). Fire services and the municipal emergency program make up 9.8 per cent.