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View From City Hall: We need your feedback on the budget

Local governments in B.C. are the only levels mandated by the Community Charter to balance their budgets every year
Mike O'Reilly column head

To find efficiencies, increase taxes or cut services. These are the decisions council faces every year, but this year will be tougher than most.

Local governments in B.C. are the only levels mandated by the Community Charter to balance their budgets every year.

This is proving to be less popular this year as the provincial and federal governments continue to hand out hundreds of thousands of dollars to individuals and businesses, giving rent subsidies and more, all in the name of the pandemic.

This leaves city council looking like the bad guys, needing to live within our means and balancing our budget.

Here is a basic breakdown of the top four areas where your municipal tax dollars were spent in 2021: policing (19.2 per cent), pools/arenas/parks (14.6 per cent), fire services (12.6 per cent) and streets (11.4 per cent).

On top of this 2021 breakdown, council will also have to fund the RCMP contract increase to the tune of approximately 23 per cent.

The RCMP is our biggest budget item and this will have a profound impact on our tax rate this year. So, what to do?

When you have a group of nine elected officials who need to come to a consensus, it becomes a process of negotiating and finding a solution that will work best for all residents in Kamloops.

Here are some of the things I have heard from my colleagues in the last few months:

• “We are municipal government. We do not cut services.”

• “There will always be more money coming from the province and the feds and we should keep spending.”

• “We should use most of our reserves to try and keep that tax increase as low as possible.”

• “We must do more with less.”

None of these are wrong approaches, nor do I think any one specific approach will be taken. Instead, it will be six months of going through the budget, deferring capital projects where we can, looking for efficiencies and listening to feedback from our residents as to what they think should be done.

Lastly, on top of these considerations, council will have to try to predict what COVID-19 will continue to do to our revenue stream and where and how much inflation will affect the budget on our capital projects.

Our capital projects run approximately $45 million a year and an inflation rate of two to five per cent is a difficult range for which to budget.

The one positive thing about being legally bound to balancing our budget is we are living within our means today and not passing debt on to our kids, grandkids and great-grandchildren.

When council does finally settle on a tax rate in the spring for 2022, we will have gone through all of the above areas listed and more to find a tax number and service levels we feel will best represent our approximately 100,000 citizens.

Throughout the entire budget process, we will be listening and we value your thoughts and feedback.

Mike O’Reilly is a Kamloops councillor. His email address is moreilly@kamloops.ca. Council columns appear monthly in the print edition of KTW and online at kamloopsthisweek.com.