City of Parksville looking at 1.5 per cent property tax increase

Coun. Al Greir's motion to freeze taxes didn't get enough support

Parksville city council may be on its way to imposing what some believe is the smallest property tax increase in the country for 2015.

Council instructed staff this week to craft a bylaw that calls for a 1.5 per cent increase in property taxes for this year. For a house assessed at $300,000, the property owners would pay $9 more this year than in 2014.

Assessments fluctuate, so it’s possible a house assessed at $300,000 in 2014 could be worth more, or less, changing the tax bill. The city’s portion of the annual property tax bill for that $300,000 house was $1,295 in 2014. For this year, provided council passes the 1.5 per cent-increase bylaw, those taxes would be $1,304.

The Regional District of Nanaimo and School District 69 are also part of that annual tax bill, roughly 50 per cent. While those taxing authorities have yet to set their rates, Parksville property owners can expect their total tax bill to be roughly double the city’s portion, or about $2,600 for the house assessed at $300,000.

City council reached the 1.5 per cent increase after many hours of public debate in the last two months about various services and staffing levels.

The increase, as it sits now, assumes grant money will flow to the city for its new water treatment and storage facilities and the Englishman River Water Service’s $37 million Plan A will be followed.

The city has until May 15 to finalize its budget. The bylaw calling for the 1.5 per cent increase will likely come to council for three readings on April 20 and could be adopted on May 4.

This week, council continued to cut some things from the budget, including $87,500 for what would have been a new staff position of Occupational Health and Safety Officer.

Coun. Al Greir still wasn’t happy with the 1.5 per cent increase. As he promised during the election, Greir put forward a motion for a freeze on taxes.

“I believe many municipalities have a disconnect to reality . . . when they request more money for operations, every year, along with more staff,” Greir said. “I see very little in this budget for the taxpayers. If we make smart choices we can not only freeze taxes, we can keep the $5 million surplus and stay the course with infrastructure and spending.”

Greir’s motion was defeated 5-2, with Coun. Leanne Salter the only other councillor voting in favour of no tax increase.

Coun. Sue Powell spoke in favour of the two per cent increase that was on the table at the start of the meeting on Monday night.

“A two per cent increase is just gong to supply us with the basics,” said Powell. “What we’re proposing (at two per cent) is the bare minimum to keep services for the citizens of Parksville. I don’t think we are being unreasonable in asking for a two per cent increase.”

Coun. Kirk Oates said he couldn’t support Greir’s no-increase motion because he didn’t know any details about what might be cut under that plan. Oates called Greir’s plan an “arbitrary surgical cut. I’d like to educate myself on what these cuts mean to the staff and the people of Parksville. If we’re cutting just for the sake of cutting, or to fill a campaign promise, I’m against it.”

Mayor Marc Lefebvre said he was concerned about the effect a zero per cent increase would have on future surpluses.

“What you cut today you have to make up for tomorrow,” said Lefebvre. “We’re in good financial shape in Parksville, we have money in the bank. I don’t take the position the citizens want a zero per cent tax increase.”

Council dug into certain line items and debated their value. The health  safety officer was eliminated, which pushed the tax increase down to 1.5 per cent from two per cent, provided all other items stayed the same. Other items hotly debated were $24,000 for a consultant to come in and test the city’s firewall/systems security and a $50,000 revisit of the city’s parks master plan, spurred in part by Beach Fest revealing it has been approached to host the world sandcastle building championships for five years starting in 2016. Those items remained in the budget.

The motion to ask staff to develop a tax increase bylaw reflecting a 1.5 per cent increase passed 4-3, with councillors Greir, Salter and Teresa Patterson opposed. With such a close vote, the bylaw could be defeated at future meetings if not all members of council are able to attend, or they change their votes.

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