The City of Duncan is considering an average 3.51 per cent tax increase for 2021.
However, the draft budget for 2021 is still being considered by council, and it’s not expected to be finally adopted until May 3.
If the budget is passed as is, the average home owner in Duncan will pay $1,408 in taxes to the city this year, which is an increase of $43 from 2020, and the average commercial property will pay $5,919, an increase of $183 from 2020.
The draft budget was calling for a 3.98 per cent tax increase in February, but the city’s committee of the whole directed staff to cut back travel and conference expenses by half to reduce the tax increase.
Among the expenses that would be paid for from taxes this year are $200,000 for paving and road projects, $83,000 for the review of Duncan’s official community plan, $56,000 for storm drain improvements, $35,000 for new equipment for the Duncan fire department, $25,000 for the implementation of the Cairnsmore Neighbourhood Plan and $22,500 to improve city parks.
Mayor Michelle Staples said 2020 was a tough year for everyone, particularly businesses.
She said council and staff have worked hard to keep the 2021 tax increase as low as possible, and that earlier projections were for a much larger 4.6 per cent increase.
“As currently drafted, the increase for the average home is 3.2 per cent, or $43,” Staples said.
“This has been accomplished while increasing spending in bylaw department patrols and capacity, and other initiatives such as extending the penalty dates [for tax collection] and creating new city-wide programs such as the facade improvement and security enhancement programs.”
The city has numerous other expenses this year as well, but many of them will be paid for from financial sources other than taxation, including the $1.57 million that the municipality has received from the province under the COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant for local governments.
The city has earmarked $300,000 from the grant for improvements to its records management system.
According to a report by CAO Peter de Verteuil, the increase in staff working remotely during the pandemic has further highlighted the challenges in the city’s current records system, which is still largely paper based.
“This has always provided challenges in information sharing between the [public works department] and City Hall, and has presented increased problems when staff are working remotely, which can also lead to extra work for other staff who are in the office and must support those working from home by providing information from files,” de Verteuil said to explain the reason for the needed improvements.
“A transformation of our records management system is a serious undertaking and not something that current staff have the capacity to take on.”
The COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant will also pay for a one-year temporary planning position, at a cost of $115,000 including benefits.
The draft budget proposes that $87,500 of that amount come from the grant in 2021, and the balance to be covered in 2022.
De Verteuil said in his report that the temporary position is necessary because the ongoing pandemic is leading to a new phenomenon; a migration to small towns near major cities as people’s jobs increasingly become remote-friendly.
“This is straining the resources of many smaller communities and putting pressure on them to adapt,” he said.
“The city’s planning department has experienced unprecedented increases to workload in the last year and staff is struggling to keep up with demand for application processing. A one-year temporary planning position funded by COVID-19 grant funds would allow for some relief of the backlog and pressure on existing staff.”
The city will send out tax notices in May after the final adoption of the 2021 budget that will include a newsletter providing details of the city’s revenues and expenditures.