The town’s elected officials are sticking to a 5.35 per cent tax increase for 2011.
Following a few months’ worth of budget discussions – all of which attended and reported on by the Lake Cowichan Gazette – mayor and council unanimously passed a first, second, and third reading of the rates bylaw, during their Tuesday, April 26 regular council meeting.
A special meeting will be held prior to their May 10 committee meetings, in order to adopt the bylaw.
“It’s been more advertised than ever before,” the town’s chief administrative officer Joseph Fernandez said, citing the Gazette’s series on budget discussions. This has helped facilitate the public’s feedback while the town’s elected officials were in the process of making budgetary decisions.
This 5.35 per cent tax increase amounts to an additional $11.81 per $100,000 of residential property owners’ property assessment value. This bumps the municipal taxation on a $100,000 property to $362.19, from last year’s $350.38.
Overall, the town will collect $1,597,774 through taxation, which is $75,791 more than last year’s budgeted $1,521,983.
The mill rates don’t quite reflect this, the town’s director of finance Ronnie Gill said, as overall property assessments have gone up 2.18 per cent. As such, although the town will collect more overall from taxpayers this year than last, the amount each homeowner is taxed will depend on what changes have been made to their property assessment.
This announcement of a 5.35 per cent municipal tax increase comes about two months after the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) announced their tax increases, which will affect the Cowichan Lake area the hardest.
CVRD tax increases in the Town of Lake Cowichan were the highest, at a 8.89 per cent increase, which translates into an increase of $16.69 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
“It makes it more stringent we stay low,” mayor Ross Forrest said, of this year’s tax increase, during a budget discussion that took place shortly after the CVRD announced their 2011 tax rates.
“Nobody likes raising taxes,” councillor Tim McGonigle said, at that same meeting. “We reduce services, or we increase taxes.”
Taking into account the municipal taxation, Vancouver Island Library, the CVRD, and the Regional Hospital, total taxation on a regular $100,000 residential property will total $612.89 this year.
Despite mayor and council unanimously agreeing upon the overall 5.35 per cent tax increase for 2011, there hasn’t been full agreement every step of the way.
The Cowichan Lake Education Centre (CLEC) and Lakeview Park budget routinely brought budget discussions to a stand still, this year.
At issue has been the two facilities’ combined budgeted 2011 deficit of $47,240.
During budget discussions, CLEC and Lakeview Park manager Dalton Smith was often on-hand to help explain the facilities’ deficit to mayor and council.
“With the economic situation and cancellations, it’s tough,” Smith said, during a budget meeting last month.
It’s not as simple as a $47,240 deficit, Smith said, citing several items within the budget, such as $11,000 for road maintenance, that would be in the budget regardless of whether or not the CLEC or Lakeview Park were operating. On top of that, he cited various grants and other contributions to the Town of Lake Cowichan that do not translate into the budget.
On the other side of the coin has been council’s interest in having the two facilities break even.
As such, council motioned to have Smith produce a three-year financial plan, after which time the two facilities are to have a deficit of zero.
Councillor Jayne Ingram, council’s most vocal proponent of a zero deficit, voted against the motion.
“I’d like to see it sooner,” she explained. “I think that the budget should be zero this year, zero the next year, and zero the next year.”
Other significant items in the budget include;
• A $16,917 reduction in the garbage collection deficit, bringing it to $27,526. This is in part thanks to the elimination of special collections.
• A new pumper truck for the Lake Cowichan Fire Department. This purchase will utilize $250,000 in reserve funds, so it won’t effect this year’s tax rates.
• $62,000 will be spent this year on a proposed spray park, tentatively planned for Duck Pond. This includes a $12,500 grant the town received from Success By 6.
• $160,000 is budgeted for water main extension through the Hundred Houses area of town. This money is to be taken out of a surplus, so does not affect the tax rates.
• $100,000 in paving program, to be used in preparation for the Ministry of Transportation’s planned 2012 paving of South Shore Road.
• Public Works will begin work on a third cell to the town’s sewage treatment plant. Relying heavily on government grants, the first phase of the $5.35 million project. Under the $2,298,090 sewer fund budget, $1,649,000 will be spend this year on phase one of the sewer upgrade.
$240,200 will be spent on lift station one (by the South Shore Road bridge).
Within the balanced Sewer Fund is a user rate revenue of $407,500. There is also a parcel tax of $81,450, which amounts to $50 per serviced lot. The majority of the remaining funding will come from conditional grants.
• Capital projects within the town’s balanced water fund include $160,000 in water main upgrades, $646,325 in water metering, $50,000 on the Wilson Avenue watermain, and $13,000 on fire hydrants.
Of the $1,342,170 in revenues, $400,000 is made up of an infrastructure grant for the water meters, which the town hopes to get from Towns For Tomorrow, which is what the town did with phase one of the water meter project.
User rates make up $487,500 of the town’s water fund revenue, while $287,670 comes from a transfer from the surplus, and $160,000 comes from debt.
The above-listed items are some of the items, but by no means all of the items, that pop out of the 2011 budget.
The town’s full 17-page 2011 financial report is a public document. Copies of the document are available at the municipal office at 39 South Shore Road.