Council presents budget for coming year

City of Castlegar lays out financial plans for the year.

The City of Castlegar has revealed its proposed budget for the coming year. According to the majority of councillors present at Monday’s city council meeting, this year’s budget was especially challenging. Budget meetings have been ongoing since the middle of January. According to the budget documents, council’s broad direction was to maintain the city’s high level of services while increasing revenues and expenditures in certain infrastructure — primarily the storm sewer system.

“It is a big process,” said finance committee chair Dan Rye. “This one has been a hard one to put together, but I think we have come up with what is the best plan for this year.”

Councillor Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff voiced her approval of the budget. “In my four years here, this is the most difficult budget process that we have gone through,” she said. “But at the end of the day, all of the three strategic goals that we set as a council [were addressed]. We are taking care of issues now and not waiting for a future generation to take care of it.”

Those strategic goals and priorities were infrastructure management, economical development and quality of life initiatives such as arts and culture, social development and parks and trails.

The budget contains over $13 million in capital projects. The Columbia Avenue redevelopment project is budgeted for $5 million and will include significant paving, replacement of water mains, storm system improvements and new pedestrian and cycling trails.

Other expenditures include a new ladder truck for the fire department at a cost of $1.17 million and upgrades to the South Sewer Treatment plant that are expected to cost $350,000.

Other budget items include Millenium Park improvements and support for Sculpture Walk, Communities in Bloom and the doctor recruitment program.

The city also has plans to create a parks foreman position to help with parks development in the city. This proposal is one of the primary reasons that councillor Bruno Tassone is voting against the proposed budget. “I voted against the budget because of two items,” he explained. “The addition of the parks foreman and then the Millennium Parks maintenance contract. These two items are about two per cent of the total four per cent increase in the budget. I feel that the public is getting taxed twice for the same service.”

One of the big ticket items this year is the storm water system. In order to fund the necessary improvements, the city is planing on implementing a $150 per year parcel tax. There were several reasons behind singling out the storm water system, including the fact that it is often put aside for other projects that are more pressing such as sewer upgrades. Severe storms of the recent past have highlighted deficiencies in the existing network. These storms have resulted in the city having to pay damages and legal fees and new legal issues continue to arise. Runoff damage poses risks to roads, bridges, culverts and pipes and the current network is impeding the ability to repave roads.

The parcel tax will be designated specifically for the storm water infrastructure and so cannot be used for other projects. “We really have to start making investments into our infrastructure and this is the only way to get this done,” said councillor Kevin Chernoff. “It is pay now or pay more later.”

Even though all councillors were not in favour of the total budget, all voted in favour of the proposal to add the parcel tax.

An increase of $37 per year for the average household is also recommended in the general municipal taxation as is a two per cent increase in commercial taxes.

The budget passed two readings at Monday’s meeting. The third reading is scheduled for the April 18 council meeting and final adoption will be on the agenda for May 2.

Budget documents can be found on the city’s website. Anyone wishing to make budget submissions to city council, or wishing to receive further information can contact city hall at 250-365-7227 or by reaching the director of finance by email at awbuss@castlegar.ca.

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