Low turnout for city budget open house

Only about 15 people showed up Monday afternoon for an open house at the Community Forum on the city's five year financial plan.

Residents at the Community Forum for the city of Castlegar's budget open house on Monday.

Residents at the Community Forum for the city of Castlegar's budget open house on Monday.

There were a few empty seats, with only about 15 people showed up Monday afternoon for an open house at the Community Forum on the city of Castlegar’s proposed 2013-17 five year financial plan.

Those that did show up were able to talk with council members and city staff about the upcoming budget. They also got to take in a presentation from finance officer Andre Buss about the plan.

“It was good,” said councillor Deb McIntosh, chair of the Finance and Corporate Services committee. “The people here asked some questions about a number of things but none about taxation or any of that. So that was surprising. The questions I heard come up were about the lazy river project. Not the costs but what it’s going to look like. There was some chatter in the audience about a ladder truck (for the fire department).

“There was also concern about the city over watering in some of its areas in the parks. There was concern about the pathways, tennis courts. So it’s great that people come here and give us this information.”

In their five year plan, council sets out the following as strategic priorities:

A. Continue to focus on developing the local economy. Work to ensure a sustainable, vibrant economy. Develop the airport lands property and work to improve landing reliability at the West Kootenay Regional Airport.

B. Continue to advance “quality of life” initiatives. Support arts and culture and continue with the implementation of city aesthetic enhancements. Continue to develop the Millennium Park area as well as pedestrian and cycling trails.

C. Continue to ensure the proper maintenance of city infrastructure. Ensure that resources are wisely used and maintain a competitive taxation environment.

Some of the projects included in the budget are:

Millennium Park Natural Outdoor Swimming Pool project – $1.2 million; Cycling and pedestrian master plan project on Connors Road – $250,000; South Castlegar Storm Expansion (Phase 3) – $205,000; 9th Avenue storm project – $160,000. The city is also set to complete the Enhanced Streetlight project which has seen the installation of new, more energy efficient street lights. The total cost of the project is $600,000.

The Water Treatment Plant project, which comes in at $1.4 million, is also set to be completed this year. The city received a grant of $760,000 for this project. Also set to be completed in 2013 is the Residential Water Meter program. The cost for the water meters is $600,000 and is fully financed using Community Works (Gas Tax) dollars.

The plan calls for a 3 per cent increase in taxation which will raise an additional, approximate $118,000 and will increase municipal taxation by approximately $22 per annum for the average single family residence. The approximate $22 increase will help offset the cost for an additional deputy fire chief position, deemed necessary due the significant increase in call-out volume.

“Taxes are going up a little bit but we’re still really good in comparison to other communities,” said McIntosh. “We’re still competitive. We’re a community to look at when you’re moving to the Kootenays. You know, we do have costs. We do have services we need to keep going. We’re being fair with everyone.”

The budget also represents a significant draw down of reserves. In 2013, the budget authorizes approximately $8.7 million in capital projects. These projects are funded by grants, transfers of operating revenues to capital and by approximately $3.0 in city reserves. Additionally, $1.0 million is budgeted to be internally borrowed from the city’s Development Reserve Fund. This reserve fund is budgeted to be repaid over a five year period.

“Overall, it was a pretty quiet budget meeting,” said McIntosh. “I think we can only take it one way: people are in agreement with what we’re doing and appreciate the hard work we’re putting into it and now that we’re open and accountable. I think we’ve been fiscally responsible and been doing a great job. It’s never too late to have an opinion.”