Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tax Hike rate still to be decided

It would appear that it all depends on who you talk to when it comes to planning tax rate hikes for Prince Rupert residents. And judging by the voting patterns of Podunk council at a special budget session on Monday night, not everyone is on the same page or hanging out with the same crowd.

With Councillor Sheila Gordon Payne unavailable for the special session of city council on Monday night, the prospect of a five per cent tax increase for Prince Rupert residents suffered a temporary setback.

With Councillor Gordon-Payne unavailable to vote, the required three readings for a bylaw approving the five per cent tax increase was defeated, with the vote ending in a 3-3 tie. Which in civic politics apparently means the run goes to the taxpayer…

Councillors Cote, Briglio and Kinney voted against the increase suggesting that the city’s embattled taxpayers would be better off with only a three and half or four per cent tax hike and some service reductions required to help balance the budget. While the three opposed to the tax increases positioned themselves on the side of the taxpayer, those in favour of the increases also claimed to have the ear of those paying the bills.

Councillor Bedard said that her conversations with residents convinced her that Rupertites were "fully in favour of paying more taxes to avoid reduces services and provide for an additional RCMP officer and future growth for the city”.

The Mayor opined that while there are always ways to trim a budget, he believes anything less than a five per cent increase will result in reduced achievements for the city in 2008.

The Mayor also would like to see the bylaw run by council again at the next Council meeting on May 12th, where he would like to see the matter voted on again, with alternate tax rate bylaws waiting in the wings in case the non five per cent side should rule victorious again.

All of the councillor’s opinions (with the exception of the absent Madam Gordon Payne) and further information on the tax rate debate was found in Tuesday’s Daily News.

Size of city tax hike still unknown
Some councillors fear a five per cent raise is too much for homeowners
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Pages one and three

City councillors are still struggling to fix the new property tax rate for the coming year.

Despite initially favouring a five per cent hike in the tax rate, Prince Rupert city council failed to pull the trigger for the 2008 Tax Rates Bylaw at a special council meeting last night.

With councilor Sheila Gordon-Payne absent, a vote to give the bylaw and the five percent hike three readings was defeated in a tied, three-to-three, vote, with councillors Ken Cote, Tony Briglio and Nelson Kinney opposed.

Those three councillors share the opinion that the public would be better served by a tax increase of only three-and-a-half or four percent and a corresponding cut in services.

“I think that with this small gesture we could show the citizens of Prince Rupert that we understand that we’re not at the ‘boom’ yet, that we understand there is a perception that seemingly talks of bigger and grander things than we’re experiencing today,” said Coun. Briglio. “We will get there, but the pain is still going to endure for a little while longer, and we have to share that pain.”

Coun. Cote was firm in his opposition to anything more than a three-and-a-half per cent increase, and expressed that he wants to see council take an entirely different direction in city spending.

“I never thought we’d have a five per cent increase,” said Coun. Cote.

“To me a hold-the-line three-and-a-half per cent budget would be much more palatable while we as council do some strategic planning and brainstorming sessions that I’m going to continue to push for so we can rearrange the way we spend money and possibly make some meaningful change in the 2009 budget,” added Cote.

Coun. Kathy Bedard said that through speaking to residents she is convinced the public is fully in favour of paying more taxes to avoid reduced services, and to provide for things such as an additional RCMP officer and provide Prince Rupert with a plan for growth.

Joy Thorkelson said the entire discussion was “ridiculous,” and said she doesn’t think council can properly run and attempt to grow a city in 2008 with less operating money than it had in 2007.

”If we want to take leadership and slash our own expenses in half, so be it and maybe that will help,” said Thorkelson.

“I don’t see why we’re nickel-and-diming ourselves to death over this. I think we have to be careful with our money and if we can come up with some savings this year, we can start doing things like repaying some of the debt we talked about.”

Mayor Herb Pond said that while there are always ways to trim a budget, he believes anything less than a five per cent tax increase will result in reduced achievements for the city in 2008.
Pond went on to ask City Manager Gord Howie and Chief Financial Officer Dan Rodin if they could add the bylaw to the council meeting agenda for Mon. May 12, and he also asked them to prepare three alternate tax rate bylaws, calculating three-and-a-half, four and four-and-a-half per cent increases in the event that another vote for a five per cent increase fails.

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