Nelson pool windfall still being debated

It remains to be seen what a windfall for the Nelson aquatic centre will mean for taxpayers.

Work is well underway on the Nelson pool renovation

It remains to be seen what a windfall for the Nelson aquatic centre will mean for taxpayers.

Last month the federal government announced a $4.6 million grant to help fund a $5.2 million renovation to the pool, which has already begun. Previously most of the project was to be paid through borrowing.

Now the question is what will the Regional District of Central Kootenay do with the $970,000 per year that was to be expended on debt servicing costs: give it back to taxpayers, spend it on other capital projects, put it toward reserves, or some combination of those?

Although open houses began this week on the RDCK’s preliminary budget, chief administrator Stuart Horn said Tuesday that Nelson-area directors are undecided about the surplus pool money.

“They’re still going back and forth on that service,” he said. “They’re sensitive to the fact there have been increases in the recent past, but one reason was because there weren’t any reserves. They’re mulling over the options to find a balance.”

A decision is expected closer to the budget approval in a few weeks, he said.

Under the previous arrangement, the project’s loan was expected to be paid off by 2020 and a reserve built to $1 million. Horn said thanks to the federal grant, it’s now possible to build the reserve much higher while still cutting taxes.

Meanwhile, the RDCK’s general administration budget is expected to be reduced by 10 per cent this year, but that will be offset by some other increases.

Horn said the reduction is due “just to my comfort with the budget. That service, when I arrived, had accumulated a huge surplus. Now in my third year, we can tighten things up and bring taxation down.”

The rural administration budget is projected to rise 4.5 to five per cent, largely due to salary costs. One item that could affect the budget is hiring of a deputy regional fire chief, something the board has rejected twice in previous years. That person would deal largely with the training needs of the RDCK’s 18 volunteer fire departments.

The two services that will see the largest percentage increases are building inspection at 7.8 per cent and planning at 15 per cent. Horn said the majority of the costs relate to increased demand for services, which means hiring more staff.

The regional district has added another planner and another building inspector, and is  sharing the latter with the City of Nelson. The RDCK provides building inspection services to most member municipalities.

In the case of planning, the 15 per cent increase amounts to $70,000. “It seems like a big number, but we hope the increase on individual bills will be small,” Horn said.

He said changes in property assessments could affect how much you pay in to shared services. Nelson assessments went up four per cent this year, while properties in neighbouring electoral areas E and F dropped.

“So even if taxation remained flat, Nelson taxpayers will pick up a little more on shared services,” Horn said.

In fact, Area F may be the only area that won’t see an overall increase.

About 10 people attended the first budget open house in Kaslo on Monday night. Another meeting was scheduled for Nakusp last night, to be followed by Slocan tonight at 6 p.m. at the village office and Castlegar on Thursday at the community complex at 6 p.m. Nelson’s meeting is next Tuesday, March 8 in the RDCK boardroom at 6 p.m., Riondel’s meeting is March 9 at 6:30 p.m. local time in the community centre, and Salmo’s is March 10 at 6 p.m. at the village office. The final meeting is in Silverton on March 15 at 6 p.m. in the memorial hall.

The board is expected to adopt its budget on March 17.

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