COLUMN: Municipalities need stable income

Nelson city council is again reviewing the budget and preparing to set tax rates for this year.

Robin Cherbo

Nelson city council is again reviewing the budget and preparing to set tax rates for this year. We are spending many days going over the city finances with staff from different departments. As usual it is not an easy process to decide how to spend taxpayers’ money on city infrastructure and services.

When we come up with a draft plan, it will be sent out to a public forum for review. It is understood that a number of people believe the process is set and do not bother to attend budget meetings. In fact, it is not a done deal and the more input we receive helps council decide the direction on a number of issues.

A couple things to note: when the formula is calculated for the amount of taxes that are paid it does not necessarily mean that if your property assessment goes up your taxes will as well. The city needs a certain amount of taxes to pay for infrastructure upgrades and provide city services including the Capitol and Civic theatres as well as Touchstones Museum. We are also assessing all city-owned buildings and properties to analyze what funds need to be spent to cover maintenance.

On the other hand, when you receive your tax notice, not all the taxes are from the City of Nelson. Please note there are school and hospital taxes as well, just to name a couple of fees. Another issue for the municipality is the downloading of costs from the provincial government, such as a change in BC Assessment on some properties that has ending up costing the city an additional $30,000. As well, everyone is waiting in anticipation for the details of the new federal budget.

Over the last few years tax cuts have been downloaded to municipalities, which increases the burden of funding services. Also note that when the federal and provincial government take their share, it just leaves eight cents on the dollar earmarked for municipal governments. Therefore the main source of income for municipalities is property taxes.

Another other source of funds is federal and provincial grants, but it costs money to have qualified staff prepare applications which results in only a few municipalities getting grants. Optimistically some of the new federal infrastructure grants will be allocated to smaller municipalities who probably need it most.

What is really needed is a stable form of income from federal and provincial governments where all municipalities get funding. When the former federal government cut the GST by one per cent, it did not take into consideration that money could have been used for municipalities who have huge debts to repair and install new infrastructure.

With the downturn in the economy there is optimism that the new federal government and the provincial governments will improve the funding going to municipalities. This would make the process of developing a 2016 local budget much better.

As always, council tries to keep taxes as low as possible while continuing to provide public services that citizens have come to rely on. It bears repeating to closely review your property tax form and note there are other taxes not from the City of Nelson.

2016 is the year of the Monkey, starting Feb. 8 (Chinese New Year), so hopefully everyone continues to have a lucky year.

Nelson city councillor Robin Cherbo shares this space weekly with his council colleagues.

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