Three-per-cent tax increase proposed for Courtenay

Courtenay council is considering raising property tax revenue by three per cent in 2011, but the impact on residents will not be known until final assessment roll values have come in.

Councillors reviewed the city's proposed 2011-15 financial plan Monday during their committee of the whole meeting.

No decisions were made, and council will look at the plan in more detail April 6.

Budget information will be made available on the city's website, and the public will be invited to provide comments prior to final adoption of the financial plan bylaw.

The 2011 final assessment roll values have not yet been received, and once staff members have this information, they will provide council with the impact of the proposed revenue increase, as well as options for multipliers used in setting the tax rates for the year, explained Tillie Manthey, the city's director of financial services.

"We are proposing a three-per-cent property tax revenue increase," she said. "That will translate into actual tax rates that vary from class to class."

The proposed 2011 general revenue increase reflects only the change in the municipal property tax portion of the property tax annual bill.

In terms of the overall budget, the 2010 financial results for the general fund proved to be somewhat brighter than forecasted, and the year ended with a moderate surplus of $378,000.

"(The 2010 financial year) was a year we had budgeted fairly cautiously in terms of revenue expectations," said Manthey. "We were relying on reserves to balance our budget and maintain established service levels, and we have been successful in doing that. The year came out a little more positively than we expected."

Planning and building permit fees exceeded budget expectations by about $200,000, while snow clearing costs for were under budget by about $116,000 for the year, and policing contract costs were under budget by about $312,000.

Looking ahead, Manthey is optimistic but cautious.

"My sense reading the economic outlooks going forward is there is a sense of optimism going forward, but it's cautious optimism," she said. "There is recovery happening; we're seeing it in Courtenay in terms of development activity around commercial activity and residential. We are saying that, yes, things are recovering, but we're budgeting for the next five years cautiously still in terms of development activity."

The proposed five-year financial plan incorporates a forecast for a slow but steady recovery in development-related revenues.

"To date, the city has been able to sustain the pre-2009 service levels historically experienced by both property owners and residents," Manthey wrote in her report to council. "As with the 2010 budget, the proposed 2011-15 five-year plan relies on a forecasted use of reserves to balance annual financial requirements. If, however, the city experiences a more rapid economic recovery than forecasted, the requirement to rely on reserves in any given year will be reduced."

Budget funding for 2011 has been provided at a level which maintains historically provided service levels.

Operating and management grants for the Citizens on Patrol, July 1st Committee, SPCA cat control, Courtenay and District Historical Society and Sid Williams Theatre Society have been maintained at 2010 levels, as have the matching grant for affordable housing initiatives, student bursary program and general grants in aid.

Staff has focused on proposed borrowing for future capital projects such as paving projects, an upgrade and expansion to the Lewis Centre, a fire hall in East Courtenay, a council chambers building adjacent to City  Hall and a new police services building.

"It is something I believe we can consider," said Manthey. "There are a number of projects, as I think with every local government, there's always quite a demand for capital work. There's infrastructure renewal, there are core facilities that require upgrading. Not all of the funding for those projects is available from reserves, especially if it's a new or major addition."

The city uses about one quarter of the legislated allowable limit, which is a fairly good position to be in, Manthey told council.

"This is the lowest percentage we've been in five years," she said. "It is comparable with other municipalities of a similar budget size."

Councillors had many questions about property taxes and the commercial multiplier and about the water and sewer operating funds, and they will discuss the proposed five-year plan in more detail next week.

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