Pulling together the annual city budget is one of the most complex duties that staff and council performs each year and one that I take very seriously.
As a result, at the council meeting on Feb. 4 I voted against staff preparing the draft 2019 budget inclusive of an infrastructure levy that would be phased in over five years from 2019 to 2023. I believe the plan is too aggressive and too much as residents would see their tax rate increase by least 37 per cent and businesses 34 per cent over this five years period — that is if everything stays status quo per the draft budget.
Simply put, the levy would put roughly $1.36 million in a renewal reserve over five years. Right now the city does have reserves used for capital/infrastructure projects. Some on council — including our mayor – believe that our infrastructure has been neglected over the years and that big sums of money are needed to fix or replacement it. This could not be further from the truth.
We heard from the asset management plans that our infrastructure is in relativity good shape but we will need to make some investment in that infrastructure over time. Castlegar is like every other community in Canada – yes, we do have an infrastructure gap that has been in the making for over 40-plus years — but we cannot possibly fix that gap in a mere five years without putting a heavy burden on taxpayers and basically restrict Council from taking advantage of any new opportunities/initiatives for fear of increasing taxation even more.
The problem with this plan is that there really is no money for the human element in this budget — the things you and I see daily. People aren’t coming to Castlegar for the shiny new pipes or the best underground infrastructure in the West Kootenay. People are relocating here in record numbers due to our low taxes, affordable housing, good paying jobs, leisure activities, and a safe but exciting city where they can thrive. Yes, good infrastructure is needed to support those people, but we must also think about the stuff that creates economic growth and keeps us attracting and retaining businesses and people here.
I believe we can do both — invest in our people and infrastructure. We can borrow for large capital projects where the costs are spread to those who benefit today and in the future. We can look for infrastructure grants from both the federal and provincial governments. We can delay or push projects out. We can cut projects from the budget that do not have a negative effect on the services we provide. We can look for partnerships. The key is we need to think beyond taxation and become creative.
In the next few weeks we will be finalizing the 2019 to 2013 budget. This is your community, your council and your taxes — so please come to budget meetings, send in letters or emails to mayor and council. Let your voice be heard. Do you have concerns about the current direction that the city’s budget is going in? Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 250-365-0801.