Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak

COLUMN: Budgets, hospitals, police, and Railtown

It’s that time of year again — budgets. And not just the city’s budget.

It’s that time of year again budgets. And not just the city’s budget, but the Regional District of Central Kootenay, School District 8 and the West Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital District.

All of these publicly funded entities make up your annual property tax bill and each of them wrestle with inside and outside pressures that influence how much it costs to maintain and address the increasing demands on services.

The results appear on your annual property tax bill. Although the city collects these taxes, it does not have control over all budgets. The city proposed a 1.75 per cent overall increase at the recent public presentation and received feedback from you. Your comments are still welcome and will be brought back to council before adoption of the budget.

There have been concerns raised about the increase in water and sewer rates two and three per cent respectively. These increases are less than those recommended in the master plan because we have found cost efficiencies and have been able to make steady progress in renewal.

Nelson leads the way in infrastructure replacement and in building reserves for the future, but some are finding it difficult to keep up. Is it possible to maintain our pace and contribute to reserves if there are no increases next year?

Can we count on the infrastructure cost sharing promised by our new federal government to assist in this work and to relieve cost pressures? I have asked staff to include a scenario that would see a zero per cent increase for next year’s budget. If we are able to maintain our pace, it’s worth considering.

•••

There is an important discussion coming to the next hospital board meeting in regard to reserves. The board’s only function is to approve capital requests from Interior Health. The province partners on capital projects at 60 per cent, with the region providing the remaining 40 per cent.

The capital reserves sit at close to $9 million and will surpass that this year. The board will consider raising the cap in preparation for some major renovations to the regional hospital. The board has also requested a long term capital planning process to better understand and prepare for the future.

•••

Council and the police board have received the decision of the Director of Police Services regarding the board’s request to increase the budget to accommodate the hiring of two more officers and an administrative staff position. Council and the board will review the decision and discuss it within the next week. The decision will then be shared with everyone.

•••

Five years ago, local governments from around the Columbia Basin got together to prepare for the possible negotiation of the Columbia River Treaty.

This group recently met to chart its path over the next year. Much has happened in five years: community education and consultation resulting in recommendations to the province, meetings with First Nations and local governments in the US, the formation of a regional group that is working with BC Hydro to address domestic issues, a school curriculum about the Columbia River, and more.

The US is preparing to meet regarding the Treaty, but no firm timeline has been set. This is not surprising with an upcoming federal election. In the meantime, local governments will continue to work toward improving the situation here.

•••

It was very encouraging to see the great interest in the future of Railtown. This area of the city holds great potential and has its own very unique character. The open house presentation generated animated conversation and a buzz of excitement. The conceptual plans honour and incorporate the history and industrial nature of the neighbourhood while proposing some interesting new additions. The planning department is collating all of your feedback and will report back soon.

This weekend I’ll be participating in the Stories Inspire Passion event hosted by the University Women’s Association of Nelson. I’m very proud to share the stage with 12 incredible women who are doing amazing things. Look forward to seeing you there.

Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak shares this space weekly with her council colleagues.

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column misstated the water and sewer rate increases.)

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