Council approves cuts to City of Kamloops budget to lower tax rate

City cuts budget more

City council approved new cuts Tuesday (Nov. 24) to help bring down the city's 2021 budget and keep tax rates lower, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact.

The provisional tax rate is down to a 0.28 per cent increase, says financial director Kathy Humphrey, though supplemental budget items still have to be discussed early next year before the rate (and budget) is finalized.

Last week, council decided to take measures to keep it to a 0.49 per cent increase; this week, some items were cut to bring it down.

Council approved four of six suggestions from staff in regards to new cuts: changes to how streetlight outages are discovered, public access to city hall, decreasing the print run of free calendars from the city and reducing temperatures in city buildings.

In total, those changes should save the city more than $250,000. The majority of that ($200,000) comes from the reduced temperature plan. Humphrey notes the idea is linked to the gas-usage reduction request following the explosion in Prince George a couple of years ago. At the time, the city kept buildings a little cooler to use less gas.

"Most people didn’t even notice," Humphrey says, adding the reduction is only by a degree or two.

For street lights, the city is moving to a complaints-based system. Up until now, they've had staff drive through the city every five weeks to see where bulbs were out. Humphrey notes BC Hydro works on a complaints-based system, too; the city and BC Hydro each own and run about half of the city's streetlights.

The city's annual calendar will not be sent to residents this year, but will still be free.

"If you want one, you can request one and we’ll send one to you," Humphrey tells Castanet. "We were producing one for every household in Kamloops."

The calendar includes events such as garbage day; Humphrey says a PDF of that schedule is available online for those who want to print it off, and physical copies can be picked up at city hall.

She adds that it'll keep calendars out of people's recycling bins as well.

Staff expect to save up to $6,500 by reducing public access to city hall by a half hour on either side of the schedule (changing hours of operation from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.). By reducing the public access times, the city will be able to reduce overtime costs. Humphrey says that often staff will be kept a little late by late arrivals at city hall or have to arrive early to set something up.

Two suggestions didn't pass; both had to do with recreation.

Council decided not to reduce hours at Westsyde Pool and Fitness Centre at all. Staff had presented three options that would have reduced the budget by $200,000 to $600,000.

"In the end, they decided the value of Westsyde Pool was important and they left the hours how they are," Humphrey says.

The budget line for Memorial Arena was also left untouched. Staff had suggested a reduction there could save the city $200,000, but staff decided to keep the full allocation in the budget. Currently, the city is keeping the arena as a potential homeless shelter.

"It’s not that it’s going to open immediately, but the money is still in the budget to open it," Humphrey explains.

Supplemental budget items could still affect the budget, and therefore tax rates. Council will discuss supplemental items next year; there are eight new items staff have brought forward.

"If they (council) want them all… it could be back to around 0.5 of a per cent tax increase," Humphrey says.

However, staff haven't created full business plans for each item yet, so where the money comes from for each item could still change. Things the city has brought forward include staffing increases for Kamloops Fire Rescue, a professional archeologist (the city currently uses contractors) and electric bikes for bylaw patrols.

Grants and reserves could be used in some cases for supplemental items.

Council also approved a 2.5 per cent increase on sewer fees.

"We’re proposing 2.5 going forward for the next five years," Humphrey says.

She notes that for utilities only funds raised through rates are used. With an aging sewer system in need of replacement, the increase means the city should avoid any significant increases in the future; a 2.5 per cent increase in 2021 is about an $11 increase per household.

"We just gradually increase it. Slow and steady and thoughtful."

Water fees aren't expected to rise in the coming years. While solid waste (garbage) isn't rising this year, Humphrey says it will in the future. However, there are a variety of garbage fees, so how much each one rises would need to be determined.

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