Qualicum Beach looking into tax reduction

Council asked staff to go through the 2012 operating budget to find ways to reduce this year's planned 1.5 per cent tax increase to zero.

Say farewell to a 2.5 per cent tax increase this year in Qualicum Beach.

Or … maybe not. That’s going to be up to the local politicians.

Town council on Monday night asked staff to go through the 2012 operating budget to find ways to reduce this year’s planned 1.5 per cent tax increase to zero. An additional one per cent increase will remain, as it helps pay for ongoing pavement resurfacing and is part of the town’s five-year financial plan.

Staff have been directed to come with scenarios that reduce that 1.5 per cent tax burden through operating efficiencies — or cutbacks. John Marsh, the town’s financial administrator says that amounts to a reduction of around $160,000 this year and next.

Of course, he added, that all depends on if council likes what it sees and decides to follow through.

“They are just going to look at it,” Marsh said, “to see a list of where savings could be made.”

Councillor Bill Luchmeijer said the intent is to challenge staff to find efficient ways of doing things.

“Federal and provincial cuts have come down, so why not municipal?” he said.

Coun. Dave Willie added council wants to see what staff can come up with and show them what an operating cost reduction might look like.

“We’ll review it, then let the public have a look at it and have it all done before the third reading of the municipal budget,” Willie said.

Coun. Scott Tanner called the exercise wishful thinking, and an exercise in futility, on the part of council, noting the provincial and federal governments keep downloading onto municipal government.

Mayor Teunis Westbroek sad if there’s an opportunity for a tax saving, then the community is entitled to it.

“Costs are going up and staff are being asked to make some changes,” he said, “but we have to have the courage to make the changes.”

Westbroek did have some concerns, noting he’s been told the town’s RCMP contribution may be going up $30,000 to cover a new officer, plus he doesn’t want any tax savings to come at the expense of the town’s own savings.

“There are a lot of options out there,” said Marsh, noting by example that the town could save thousands of dollars by scaling back street sweeping from once a week to once every two weeks.

Marsh added staff are not opposed to making the optional cut list for council, saying this is what a council is supposed to do. They must be careful, he added, not to reduce taxes on one hand, and recoup any money through user fee hikes.

“We do in the end,” he noted, “need to be clear with the public on what we are going to do.”

Council has asked town staff to return with a tax savings report at a future regular meeting. The town’s financial plan (that does not include the proposed tax reduction) could be voted into effect by an April 16 meeting.