FOULDS: There are ways to save some money at city hall
Another city budget is almost ready to be adopted and, for yet another year, Kamloops residents had a chance to tell council what they want to see done with all those numbers.
A handful of public-consultation meetings were held at Interior Savings Centre, where taxpayers weighed in on parkland, sewage systems, streetlights and the like.
At the end of the three public-input meetings, Coun. Ken Christian noted that, while there was plenty of advocacy for projects, he did not hear much in the way of suggestions on trimming costs.
Christian said council should look at postponing some major capital projects to 2014 while focusing on staffing numbers at city hall, noting the major cost is in benefits paid.
Consider this column an attempt at filling the void left at those public meetings with some suggestions as to how city council can work to lessen the tax burden on a populace simply overwhelmed by taxes and fees at all levels of government.
I took a look at property taxes I have paid since arriving in Kamloops in 2005. It’s a steady increase, to be sure, but so, too, has the value of my abode risen during these years.
I am paying $192.84 more now than I did eight years ago. Thanks to Victoria’s decision to bump up the homeowner’s grant, my cumulative property-tax hike in Kamloops has been diluted to $107.16.
Nevertheless, every year property taxes have risen, due to the city needing to cover increasing costs, paramount which is wages paid to staff, wages that have risen every year, regardless of the state of the economy.
Property taxes are but a portion of the costs to Joe Sixpack that rise annually.
While Kamloops council has managed to keep property-tax hikes to about two per cent each year, there are also increases in water, sewer and garbage rates, not to mention the limitless list of additional expenses to be found at the provincial and federal levels.
Fifty-five dollars a year here. Sixty-four bucks a year there. Twenty-two beans here. Thirty-five dollars there.
On their own, such hikes don’t seem onerous. Add them up, year after year after year and many of us become enmeshed in our very own Ronnie Dunn song. Cost of Livin’? It knows no heights it cannot exceed.
The City of Kamloops has about 640 employees.
At the end of 2011, those employees were paid about $50 million in wages and another $400,000 in expenses.
Of that $50 million, one-third was paid to employees earning $75,000 or more a year.
Now, nobody should begrudge somebody a decent salary to support a family and whether Kamloops can do with fewer than 640 employees is debatable.
But, getting back to Christian’s comment on the focus being on city staff and benefits, there is a very clear opportunity to find savings in the benefits package enjoyed by city staffers.
The city’s contract with CUPE expires at the end of this year. That contract includes CUPE employees having 100 per cent of their benefits paid for by taxpayers.
Why should city employees (union or management) not pay some of the cost of their benefits, as is the norm in much of the private sector?
That contract also allows sick days (1.5 days permitted per month of employment) to be banked and cashed in upon retirement — to a maximum of 120 days, paid out at 80 per cent value.
Sick days are essentially insurance against getting ill. Why are taxpayers paying employees for not getting sick?
One does not receive money paid for fire or car insurance if there has never been a blaze or accident.
Furthermore, I suggest city council adopt the following:
• Until there comes a day when a zero per cent property-tax increase can be guaranteed, there will be an end to all beautification promotions/contests that carry a cost of any kind.
• Unless it’s a matter of life or death, there shall be no new major roads built in the city. The Hillside Connector is pretty to drive down, but hardly necessary.
• If a multi-million-dollar performing arts centre is desired, the project must be put to a referendum. If 51 per cent of those voting approve the proposal, I will pay my share willingly.
• See previous suggestion and apply to every non-essential project under consideration in the city, be it a park in Aberdeen, a new city hall or a proposed parkade downtown.
I am sure KTW readers have even better cost-cutting suggestions.
Tell us what they are by dropping a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.