A revised budget for the Village of Kaslo received high praise from elected officials when it was introduced at a special council meeting earlier this month.
“I know a lot of people have concerns about tax increases, but when you really see what we’re planning on getting done this year, it sort of pales into insignificance in my opinion,” said Councillor Rob Lang. “I think it’s tremendous what we are attempting to do here.”
Lang wasn’t alone in his judgement as the council approved receiving the draft budget, which includes provision for a tax increase, a new parcel tax on sewer services, and more than a dozen major and minor infrastructure projects.
The tax break residents got last year from council – a zero per cent increase – won’t happen again this year if the budget is adopted. To cover inflation, staff are proposing a four per cent increase – two per cent to make up for last year, and two per cent for 2021. Besides inflation, the Village’s union contracts includes a two per cent wage increase, so the tax bump will help cover the Village’s extra costs.
The increase would bring an extra $35,000 into the Village’s coffers.
The Village’s chief administrative officer noted, however, the increase still leaves the Village with a comfortable tax record. Ian Dunlop said the tax rate in Kaslo has dropped 21 per cent in the last three years. And the CAO noted the four per cent increase doesn’t automatically mean less money in residents’ pockets.
New parcel tax?
The parcel tax on water – that’s a separate charge based on the size of a person’s property – should remain the same as 2020, the administration recommends. Plans to slowly increase the parcel tax were put on hold because of COVID in the 2020 budget.
“A delay in increasing the parcel tax will benefit almost all property owners,” the CAO noted. “But we have to make up for the shortfall so we can meet grant project obligations.”
Staff also recommended introducing a new parcel tax, for sewer services. For simplicity, it would be tied to the water parcel tax, at about $1 per foot of frontage. The new parcel tax would build up reserves for repairs that aren’t always eligible for funding from other levels of government.
“It’s for upkeep of the system,” explained Dunlop. “It’s to replace the system as it ages. We have pumps and other things that are capital items, but they’re not really because you are replacing them, they’re coming to the end of their life. The existing sewer users would pay towards that so that we’re building up a reserve to cover those kinds of costs.”
Mayor Suzan Hewat also endorsed the sewer parcel tax, noting that without the reserve it would create the Village could face a financial shock if they have to make an urgent repair of the system.
“I know where you are going because you want to reduce taxation,” said Hewat, responding to concerns about the proposed new tax raised by Councillor Henry Van Mill. “This is going to be a tough year for people, for some more than others. But we still have to be prudent and manage ourselves.”
The draft budget also included more than a dozen major and minor capital projects planned for 2021, taking advantage of a suite of grants and incentives offered by higher levels of government, most as part of the COVID recovery process.
Among the roughly $3 million in projects and purchases to get underway or continue in 2021: development of Front St. Park, FireSmart projects, Kaslo River Dike improvements and repairs, purchase of an arena refrigeration condenser, aerodrome improvements, City Hall building and courtroom upgrades, purchase of new electric vehicle, repairs to Kemp Creek dam and A Ave. waterline expansion.
Almost none of the cost of the projects will be paid for directly out of taxpayers’ pockets. The Village is using a combination of federal and provincial infrastructure and COVID Recovery grants, reserve funds and insurance to pay for the initiatives.
There’s still work to be done before the final budget bylaw is passed. Councillors have given a provisional thumbs-up to the draft budget, five-year plan and parcel taxes so far, but the final vote on those items will take place in the weeks to come.
There’s one more public meeting, on April 6, and then the council will likely be able to set its tax rate. The Village is also awaiting the final tax requests from the RDCK and regional hospital district to add to the equation.
The provincial deadline for the municipality to submit its budget is May 14.