Quesnel city council approved their 2022 operating budget during their Tuesday, Feb. 1 meeting.
According to a city council report on the budget written by the city’s director of corporate and financial services, Kari Bolton, taxes will be raised by 6.9 per cent. The increase to the average residence was calculated to be just over $92.
The total change to taxation for the city is an increase of just under $1.2 million, and the city is anticipated to collect over $18 million in taxes this year.
“The major factors affecting this budget include inflation, the anticipated costs for the RCMP due to their new negotiated contract, loss of major industry assessment, the effect of bringing the light industrial tax rate to the same rate as the commercial class and the use of surplus funds to reduce taxation in 2021,” Bolton’s report reads.
Councillor Ron Paull was desperate to reduce the tax increase, formally moving to cut the RCMP budget, the frequency of driveway snow removal, and the staff travel and training budget. He also suggested cutting several smaller items.
After all of Paull’s motions did not get a seconder, he quipped, “I’m out of gas here,” when he ran out of suggestions to remove from the budget.
Mayor Bob Simpson said that most residents are happy with Quesnel’s services, and want them to be maintained.
“I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind,” Paull said after the meeting.
“It’s a little bit painful to stand up against the whole council, but that’s just the way I feel, and I basically call it like it is.”
Paull would be the only councillor to vote against approving the budget. When attempting to bring up Prince George as an example for Quesnel to follow, Simpson immediately shot him down.
“(That’s) not pertinent to our conversation, you ‘ought to know that, and you ‘ought to be ashamed of yourself for even bringing it into the council chambers,” Simpson said.
“You know that’s a much bigger conversation, including the fact (Prince George) is backstopping their budget to the tune of $3.5 million with COVID grant money.”
In 2021, a planned tax increase of around 4 per cent was reduced to 2.5 per cent after council approved using $260,000 in surplus funds to decrease any tax hit to homeowners in Quesnel. Those costs are now part of this year’s tax increase.
Councillor Martin Runge, who shared Paull’s desire to reduce taxes pointed to last year’s tax relief as cause for the higher than usual increase.
“We’re paying for something that we covered last year which put us back into the five per cent,” he said.
“That alone, with an inflation rate of closer to four per cent means we’re doing really, really well. The part I love about this council is the crazy projects we’ve put on the table in the last three, four, five years.”
Paull said thinking the move to take $260,000 from surplus and put it towards lowering the tax burden last year was something he and mayor Simpson agreed was a poor decision at the time.
“That’s one place where the mayor and I agree,” he said.
“I remember bucking the motion. I said at the time it’s gonna come back and bite us in the you-know-what.”
Councillor Mitch Vik wanted to know where the city stood compared to its peers when it came to residential, commercial, and industrial tax rates.
“For commercial we’re up at the higher levels, but we’re quite close to our northern neighbours, so it seems a northern thing to have a higher (commercial),” Bolton said.
“Of course for industry, we’re in the top five on mill rate for sure. Residential we’re still lower-third quarter.”
The assessed value of Quesnel homes rose by nearly 30 per cent in 2022.
“In years when the assessment increases dramatically, the mill rate lowers to reflect that the city collects approximately the same amount of funds with increases only as required and set out by budget documents,” Bolton’s report reads
The the mill rate dropped from 4.66 in 2021 to 3.94 in 2022. The mill rate in Quesnel has not dropped below 4 since at least 2014.
Of the $2.5 million the city received in provincial COVID-19 safe restart grant, council still has $350,000 to spend.
Responses to the city’s annual budget survey were down compared to previous years. Participation dropped by 67 per cent. Of the respondents, 18 per cent were dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with city services, 73 per cent were satisfied or somewhat satisfied, and eight per cent were neither satisfied or dissatisfied.
Respondents supported prioritizing road and bridge maintenance, RCMP and emergency preparedness and mitigation as core services, and housing, recycling, reuse and zero waste and neighbourhood and business planning as initiatives to pursue.
Respondents also supported additional taxation for senior support services and community strengthening services.
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