In a year when city council has tasked staff with trying to keep property taxes as low as possible, it is faced with a supplemental budget item list that is longer than usual.
Last year, council deferred many of its supplemental budget items — including funding for pedestrian crossing improvements, upgrades to the RCMP Battle Street detachment, additional parks staff and boat launch improvements — in order to pinch pennies at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those items returned for discussion on Tuesday, during the latest in a series of city budget meetings. Meanwhile, staff had a new set of requests.
“All of these items were set aside and deferred for a year with the expectation they would be brought back as part of the 2021 supplemental process,” the city’s corporate services director, Kathy Humphrey, told council on Tuesday.
Humphrey presented to council 15 supplemental budget items, some of which are being asked to be funded through taxation and some of which would be funded in other ways or further out, down the road.
Overall, if all of the items were to be given the green light by council, the requests would result in about a quarter-per-cent tax rate increase in 2021. (Though they could have other implications later.)
The current provisional tax rate sits at about a quarter per cent increase, which equates to about $6 for the average Kamloops household (assessed at $443,000).
Council heard on Tuesday it is unique in this province for mandating staff to keep the tax rate as close to zero as possible. Council made that request due to economic strain caused by the pandemic.
The supplemental budget request that could come with the biggest price tag is an $8.8-million RCMP protective services training facility. Staff are proposing to construct in the coming years a facility complete with a 20,000-square-foot indoor gun range, 4,000-square-foot warehouse building for scenario-based training and expansion of classroom space dedicated to Kamloops Fire Rescue.
RCMP members currently travel for training. A report on the business case for the facility, however, states the city anticipates $675,000 per year in avoided costs and revenues, which could result from other communities utilizing the facility for their training needs.
Slated for construction a few years down the road, the timing of the request raised questions from councillors.
Meanwhile, Coun. Denis Walsh questioned funding for boat launch improvements, calling it a “substantial amount of money for a small amount of people.” The city proposes to fund $759,000 in capital improvements to boat launches at both Pioneer Park and McArthur Island over four years utilizing community works funding. Walsh suggested user fees.
Accessibility was top of mind for two councillors. Coun. Dale Bass questioned liability on behalf of the city, should a $6.5-million investment in upgrading dozens of pedestrian crossings over the next 12 to 15 years not be addressed. Coun. Sadie Hunter said $40,000 for mobility mats, which can be placed in parks for wheelchair access, would be utilized despite event cancellations during the pandemic because more people are spending time outdoors.
New requests focused on adding staff and green initiatives.
The city is proposing to add two more full-time firefighters ($200,000) and to hire a staff archeologist, which is expected to result in savings on capital projects. The city currently contracts out the work.
Other proposals include replacing the former bylaws department’s bike fleet with electric bikes ($20,000), a home energy retrofit program ($15,000) and a $120,000-replenishment of an incentive program, as the city implements the BC Energy Step Code.
Council will decide on the proposals at a future meeting held on Feb. 9. In the meantime, the city is seeking public feedback. In lieu of in-person meetings during the pandemic, the city is asking the public to weigh in online via Let’s Talk, which can be found at letstalk.kamloops.ca. Have some thoughts on the proposed spending initiatives? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.