Kamloops council has approved a provisional tax increase for 2020 of 2.76 per cent, which equals about $62 for the average-assessed residential property.
During a committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, council learned the city’s budget in 2020 is $115 million, with slightly more than $3 million in additional tax funding required to maintain services and carry out contracts, such as wage and benefits increases to city staff and management, RCMP and Kamloops Fire Rescue. Wages comprise the largest portion of additional tax funding required, according to the city’s corporate services director
Last year, council approved wages and benefits hikes for unionized (Canadian Union of Public Employees) city staff and management of 2.25 per cent in 2020, equating to $1.5 million. In addition, the budget earmarks an additional $540,000 for Kamloops Fire Rescue ($450,000 is being set aside for firefighter wages and benefits, with the union contract expiring at the end of the year) and $928,000 toward reaching a full RCMP contingent of 136 officers and three municipal support staff. Policing remains the single-largest cost to taxpayers, at about 15 per cent of the budget, and was cause for discussion on Tuesday.
Coun. Arjun Singh highlighted a need for more financial accountability when it comes to police resources. He said 30 per cent of calls to police, including for social issues, are placed to the wrong agency and wondered what it costs the city. Singh asked if money would be better spent elsewhere to address issues impacting vulnerable people, businesses and neighbourhoods in the community. He clarified he was not suggesting fewer police officers, but noted future budgetary impacts from a police force set to unionize.
“Are they the right resource to increase for the calls we are actually facing?” Singh asked.
The city’s community and protective services director, Byron McCorkell, said breaking down what it costs to dispatch police in social situations is difficult to quantify. City CAO David Trawin explained the city is pushing the province, including at the recent UBCM convention, to choose Kamloops for a pilot project in which technology is utilized to track police time. The city has taken issue with subsidizing the tab for rural policing.
Talk of police costs prompted Coun. Denis Walsh to resurrect conversation of a municipal police force. Mayor Ken Christian, however, said the community still benefits from specialized RCMP services and would need a population of 250,000 to make a municipal police force worthwhile.
Other impacts to the budget in 2020 include rising insurance premiums for civic assets, at $125,000, and revenue shortfall of $275,000 at the Tournament Capital Centre. Humphrey told KTW revenue have been declining for the past three to four years due to a combination of fewer annual passes sold and shifting demographics (seniors, families and students pay less than adults). Humphrey said the city will be conducting a more thorough analysis during planning for the new Recreation Master Plan.
“They’re going to take a look and try to figure out, is it less people? Is it less cost? Why are people going to other facilities? In some ways, four or five years ago, we did have complaints that the gym was super busy. Is this just actually a good level to keep it at?” Humphrey said in discussing the staff analysis to be conducted.
Revenue loss likely correlates to the opening of the nearby low-cost Planet Fitness in Sahali Mall.
The property tax increase is provisional and will not be shored up until the new year. Also included is anticipated growth of 1.25 per cent, amounting to $1.4 million in tax revenue, but those numbers will not be known until the new year, when BC Assessment releases property values.
The provisional tax hike equates to $62 for the average-assessed property, which is $448,000. Property tax bills also include regional district, hospital and school taxes and Kamloops residents should expect increases, based on decisions last week by the TNRD. Last year, the city’s property tax hike was 2.96, compared to 2.08 per cent in 2018 and 2.67 per cent in 2017. The city’s 10-year tax increase average is 2.31 per cent. The Edmonton municipal price index, which is the city version of the consumer price index, is expected to be three per cent in 2020.
Humphrey said compared to other communities, Kamloops, is “quite comparable” to other communities and gets good bang for its buck, when considering services offered to residents. Humphrey said the city is different from places like Kelowna in that it does not neighbour large communities, with which it can share resources, such as water infrastructure and civic facilities.
Editor's note: The average-assessed value of a home in Kamloops has been corrected in this article. The value is $448,000. A City of Kamloops report from which the previous value was taken had an incorrect value.