Regional District of Central Kootenay taxpayers should see their bills remain relatively unchanged this year. The board is expected to adopt a budget this week that will result in no net tax increase for most homeowners.
“It really comes down to the fact there weren’t a lot of service increases,” said chief financial officer Stuart Horn, who joined the organization last year. “We haven’t seen a need for it.”
Horn said one exception was the addition of a second bylaw enforcement officer, which had some impact on the rural administration budget, but it was running at a surplus anyway.
District-wide, the only new service is the regionalized Kaslo fire department, which affects the village and rural area surrounding it. “Everybody else has stayed plus or minus two per cent and it’s been driven by the assessments,” Horn said, noting that on the whole, property assessments went up.
Nelson and Area F — which includes Beasley, Bonnington, Taghum, and the North Shore — will see taxes remain flat while Area E — which includes Blewett, Balfour, Harrop, and Procter — is expected to see a 1.2 per cent decrease. (Blewett had a large jump in its assessment this year after dropping three years in a row.)
The regional district is able to hold the line on taxes partly due to the discovery of a $1.5 million surplus in its general administration budget, which all areas pay into. Horn said keeping reserves often makes sense, but not in this case.
“Something like waste, you’d want to keep a bit extra on hand to make sure you have enough in case something big comes up. A service like [general administration] is staff costs, director costs — there aren’t a lot of what ifs.”
Horn said his current direction is to use the surplus to keep taxation flat as long as possible, although that might change when the board meets Thursday.
Area F director Ron Mickel agreed that while it’s good to have a contingency, “you don’t need anywhere near that. I know it’s a rainy day fund, but I don’t feel comfortable with it. That is definitely too much.”
Mickel said some directors want to use the money to delay future tax increases while others think it should be returned to taxpayers faster. “The question is whether to give that surplus back in one shot or over a number of years. That debate is still in progress,” he said.
Area E director Ramona Faust said her area will see a small increase in its parks budget due to the expansion of the Taghum beach and creation of a management plan for the Balfour beach regional park, but “other than that, we’re pretty stable.”
“We’re trying hard to recognize that people on low or medium income are struggling to keep all the bills paid and balance that with other folks who say ‘You should be taking better care of the trails, or improving the parks, or providing more amenities.’ … I think we’re doing a fairly good job.”
• Recent budget open houses were sparsely attended. A session in Nelson last week drew about ten people, while earlier meetings in Salmo and Castlegar had five and four respectively. Horn said there were no consistent concerns, with different issues raised in each community.
• The regional district provides about 160 services, which each fall within one of seven budget areas: general administration, rural administration, development services, environmental services, regional parks, fire protection, and community sustainability.