North Cowichan is projecting a 2.64 per cent increase in property taxes for 2018.
The municipality’s five-year financial plan had anticipated a 3.09 per cent tax increase for 2018, but Mark Frame, the municipality’s director of financial services, told council on Aug. 16 that the projected tax increase was based on cost assumptions at the time, and will likely be less as North Cowichan begins discussions on next year’s budget.
He said the 3.09 per cent projected tax increase included the consideration of a two per cent wage increase for staff, one per cent for inflation and debt increases for the initial stage of the new, approximately $23-million, RCMP detachment.
Frame said it was anticipated that the province would confirm funding support for the new RCMP detachment project by March 31, 2016, with design happening in 2016 and construction starting in 2017.
But he said, as of July, North Cowichan is still waiting for the RCMP to finalize building options, so the project will need to be moved to 2018 for design and 2019 for start of construction.
“This means the projected $800,000 tax increase, which totalled three per cent of the total tax increase projected for 2018, related to the debt servicing costs will now be phased in over a three-year period that will begin in 2019,” Frame said.
“The most significant change from the 2017 Financial Plan is postponing the RCMP building. This decreases the 2018 tax increase and increases the 2019 tax increase. These numbers are all preliminary and will no doubt change as we progress through the budget process.”
Frame said in a staff report that the municipality is also facing a number of smaller cost increases in 2018 that will impact the tax rates for the year.
They include adding two clerical positions, an increase to North Cowichan’s fire truck replacement fund and costs related to adding new positions to the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment.
Frame also suggested that North Cowichan continue to seek public input on its budget for 2018 during a series of town hall meetings across the community tentatively scheduled to be held in October.
The town hall budget meetings, which the municipality began two years ago, typically include a presentation highlighting the current year’s accomplishments, a brief overview of the municipality’s draft budget, and round table discussions on upcoming projects.
Coun. Joyce Behnsen suggested that, with all the demands on staff this year, the town hall meetings should be cancelled.
But other councillors defended the meetings, stating that many in the community want to be given the opportunity to be part of the budget-building process.
“I’d hate to see the headlines in the local paper saying we cancelled those meetings,” Coun. Tom Walker said.