Taxes will go up 2.5 per cent in the town of Qualicum Beach this year. After town council earlier this month asked staff to explore the impacts of a zero tax increase, they voted on April 16 to maintain the planned tax hike.
The vote was, however, a close one and some councillors said they were disappointed in what they called a negative public relations setup.
On Monday, town staff presented a list of $155,000 in operational savings — representing their plan to comply with the council’s proposed zero tax increase. That list included eliminating the fall chipping program ($30,000) and reducing lawn mowing, line painting, street sweeping and litter pickup.
“I am disappointed in this report,” said councillor Bill Luchmeijer. “I feel this is a setup for a public relations problem. These aren’t the reductions we as a council were after.”
He said the reductions in spending he was after includes reducing the number of consultants hired, ending staff conferences, curtailing Communities in Bloom efforts, making out-of-area folks pay more to use the town’s golf course and reducing the amount of big flower beds.
Luchmeijer also suggested the town might look into selling water to other communities.
He also questioned the fire department’s call response list.
“Are they all necessary?” he asked.
Coun. Dave Willie and Mary Brioulette both agreed the staff list of cuts was not what they wanted, either.
“These items (on the staff list) are very public,” Brioulette said.
When asked after the meeting if council had expressed their priorities to staff prior to their presentation Monday night, Luchmeijer said no, because council only received the report Monday morning. Town staff, however, released the night’s agenda the previous Friday.
Coun. Scott Tanner expressed concern at his fellow councillors’ position on the matter, noting what the town has been doing for the last 10 years seems to be fine.
“Gas, Hydro and other costs are going up,” he said. “I have no problem with a 2.5 per cent tax increase.”
Briouliette was the one to spilt the difference. She suggested council approve the 2.5 per cent increase, and require staff to still find the $155,000 in operational expense reductions this year — based on the issues councillors raised Monday night. This motion passed in a 3-2 vote, with Luchmeijer and Willie voting against it.
Tanner attempted to modify that motion, seeking to eliminate the planned $80,000 for a town communications officer — a new position created by council this year. His amendment received no seconder, and thus failed.
In the town’s list of 2012 budget increases, the communications officer position is the second-most expensive, after $92,000 in a 2.75 per cent union contract increase.
Luchmeijer said after that this council asked staff to hire a communications officer to reach the public with council’s priorities.
“We want to get the word out on downtown infill and other priorities,” he said. “We felt we needed the position to tell people about that, without getting them all riled up.”
Mayor Teunis Westbroek said he supports the town’s financial plan as-is, noting the evening’s debate sends a clear message to staff that council wants to see a surplus by the end of the year.