Port taxes set to rise, for first time in five years

  • Apr. 9, 2014 3:00 p.m.

It looks like Port Clements homeowners will pay an average of 3 percent more property taxes this year, according to the budget that council presented at a public meeting Monday night (April 7). Mayor Wally Cheer told the public that this year’s budget was a struggle and that he was not happy to see a tax increase, after several years without one. However, after debate and discussion council members settled on a three percent increase so the village would not have to dip too far into its reserve fund. “There was discussion about keeping the rate increase down and digging further into reserves but that is unfair to residents down the road,” he said. Even with the increased property taxes, the budget anticipates that the village will spend almost $160,000 more this year than it receives in revenue. That money will come from Port’s accumulated surplus, which is at approximately $1.2-million. Council received one letter and several comments from residents opposed to the tax increase. Doug Daugert, who was stranded in Prince Rupert because of a cancelled ferry sailing, wrote urging council to review the services provided by the village and see if any could be reduced, eliminated or contracted out to save money. He also questioned why the village is planning to build a new pavilion in the community park this year and undertake other infrastructure projects in future years if money is so tight. Resident Gloria O’Brien also questioned the need for a tax increase, saying it seems like property owners in Port pay a lot for the services they receive. “We’re not living within our means,” she said. “We have to learn to cut backÂ… We have nothing in Port Clements, why are people paying these kind of taxes?” Administrator Kim Mushynsky said the main reason that Port will run a deficit this year is that the provincial grant to small communities will be much lower in 2014 than it has been in past years. The province has said that this grant, which provides a significant chunk of Port’s general operating fund (it will be $251,000 this year, contributing almost twice as much as property taxes), should return to its previous level in 2015, Ms Mushynsky said. The community park pavilion, and other infrastructure projects planned for future years like the barge facility, will only go ahead if the village receives grants to cover the cost of building them, she said. That did not sit well with resident Randy O’Brien, who said he is opposed to grants in general, even if they come from the provincial or federal governments, as it is all money from taxpayers in the end. Mr. O’Brien also had several concerns about the barge facility project, saying the information he has seen far doesn’t make much of a business case. Ms Mushynsky said the village plans to hold a public meeting in early July to update residents on the barge project. The process is slow, she said, and the project will only go ahead if Port receives grants to cover the cost of building it. In answer to a question from Mr. O’Brien, she said the current rough estimate for building the facility is $4.4 million. Mr. O’Brien also asked about the village’s plans to switch the heating system of the multi-purpose building from propane to biomass (this is another project that will go ahead only if grant applications are successful). Mr. Cheer responded that there are significant savings to be made by switching from propane, and the village receives gas tax money that can only be spent in certain ways. Alternate energy systems qualify, which is why the village is looking into this, he said. “If we could get a biomass system in, we could save a lot of money,” he said. Council is still examining the possibility, he said, and has not made a final decision to go ahead. In response to other questions from the public, Ms Mushynsky explained why water and sewer rates will be going up on July 1 and again on Jan. 1, saying that council has decided to set aside $55,200 in this year’s water fund and $34,766 in this year’s sewer fund to save for future costs of new infrastructure. Council members voted to give first, second and third readings to the budget at the council meeting following the public session, meaning that they don’t plan to make any changes to it. Final reading is scheduled for the next council meeting in April, as long as there are enough council members present. Only three council members attended the April 7 meeting, and mayor Wally Cheer warned that quorum might be an issue in the future. The final deadline for the budget is May 15.

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