By Lyonel Doherty
Town council put its chief financial officer to work yesterday in a numbers game that will soon determine how Oliver residents will be impacted by the 2018 budget.
Devon Wannop never faltered as he grinded the numbers and answered questions on the fly for council members who don’t want to raise taxes but feel it may be the responsible thing to do.
“I hate to raise taxes but it’s a fact of life, said Mayor Ron Hovanes, referring to facilities they have to maintain and future policing costs they have to consider.
“It would be truly irresponsible not to plan for these things.”
In five years, council is quite certain that Oliver’s population will exceed 5,000, which means it will be responsible for paying 70 per cent of its policing costs, compared to the 30 per cent they are paying now. So the Town wants to prepare for this in order to avoid the shock of a huge tax increase when the time comes.
Therefore, it is considering a nine per cent municipal tax increase, which could end up being lower depending on the budget.
Councillor Dave Mattes said nine per cent is the “worst case scenario.” But he noted that if council does nothing about the policing costs, they will have a $1 million-plus deficit staring them in the face.
Wannop is currently working on three different police cost scenarios for council’s consideration.
Under capital projects for 2018, council agreed to defer six projects to 2019. These are CPR Station sprinkler system ($36,000), streetlight upgrades to LED in Meadows Drive area ($15,000), solar pathway lighting in Fairview Park ($26,000), Airport Road lane rehabilitation – Skagit to Road 1 ($138,000), and Trails and Parks Master Plan ($30,000).
There was some discussion about deferring the columbarium project at the cemetery ($40,000), but council decided to keep that in the budget for this year.
“It’s a great addition to the cemetery; it’s one thing we don’t have,” said Councillor Petra Veintimilla.
A columbarium is a wall with cavities designed to hold cremation urns, adding another choice for people to keep their loved one’s remains.
The capital projects that council intends to follow through with this year include: phone system replacement ($20,000), new pickup truck for Public Works ($30,000), GPS survey equipment ($10,000), closed circuit TV for storm pipe ($40,000), Spartan Street sidewalk from Rockcliffe Road to School Avenue ($200,000), Station Street upgrades ($680,000), traffic calming study ($7,000), cost share Oliver Landing storm sewer ($18,000), cost share Ellcar streetlights on Meadows Drive ($10,000), and veterans section grave marker base improvements ($8,500).
On the operational side, council is banking on $10,000 from the regional district and the school district to help pay for the 2018 municipal election.
In addition, it has approved moving the rodeo grounds maintenance costs to the fire department budget. Mattes said the fire department should be the one paying the maintenance for this site.
Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger recommended that the Town top up the bylaw enforcement budget by $3,000.
“It’s going to be a fun summer,” he said facetiously.
Fellow Councillor Maureen Doerr agreed, saying, “it might be ugly.”
The last thing council approved was removing user fees from people’s tax notices and putting them on their utility bills to be paid quarterly. This means utility bills will increase but people’s property tax bills will go down accordingly.
Wannop said taxpayers will not see those fees on their property taxes ($258 for sewer user fee and $110 for the garbage and recycling fee). These will be moved onto their quarterly utility bills for $92 ($64.50 for the sewer user fee and $27.50 for the garbage and recycling fee).
Wannop stated this will allow for greater comparability for strictly property tax costs between municipalities and help staff administratively going forward.