The first thorough review of the 2014 financial plan by Comox council Wednesday revealed some good news for residents.
The tax rate for the coming year may increase slightly to 1.1 per cent, rather than a proposed 2.7 per cent as originally planned.
During preliminary budget review talks, Coun. Ken Grant suggested they examine comments by Town chief administrative officer Richard Kanigan in the financial plan report concerning policing and RCMP staffing costs.
Kanigan noted that several years ago, council decided to add an additional RCMP officer every four years, however the quarterly reports submitted from the RCMP do no seem to indicate a need for additional staffing.
As a result, he noted, council has been deferring the next scheduled officer increase a year at a time.
Mayor Paul Ives said for a while, the town’s population has slowly been increasing “towards the magic number” of the 15,000 threshold, where they would have to increase the number of RCMP officers, but added right now, it would not hurt to take the money out of the plan.
Coun. Tom Grant agreed, and noted the town’s crime rate is decreasing.
From 2015 to 2018, the town has budgeted $496,500 for one RCMP officer, and from April 2016 to 2018, $118,632 for a half-time civilian support position.
Council voted unanimously in favour of the motion, and will vote next week for for formal approval.
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Despite an approved motion during budget discussion in 2012 to allow $25,000 per year for the next four years for the voluntary water meter program, council approved a motion to remove the funds and place the money in a wayfinding fund for downtown revitalization.
Coun. Ken Grant suggested the money could be put towards another use, such as a fund for the Comox Business in Action for downtown revitalization.
Coun. Tom Grant agreed.
“That’s going to show the downtown business people the ways we could help them. Wayfinding is an issue in the Town of Comox,” he said.
Mayor Paul Ives said while he values the $25,000 for water metering, he doesn’t doubt investing in the town’s downtown area.
He did express concern if the funds were removed, what would happen to the fund if infrastructure needed to be improved.
“If water service need replacing, we’d go in and replace it. That practice will continue and be funded by the water fund,” explained CAO Richard Kanigan.
He added since council approved an opt in/opt out option for homeowners interested in obtaining a water meter from the Town, the number of people wanting to sign up for a meter has increased.
Coun. Patti Fletcher expressed concern if people did want to obtain a meter if the funds were removed.
“We’re not saying the (water meter program) has disappeared, it would just be funded from a different source (water reserves),” answered Kanigan. “The program is still in place.”
Council voted unanimously in favour of the motion. Missing from the vote were Couns. Barbara Price and Hugh MacKinnon.