Village of Queen Charlotte council members heard loud and clear that residents did not want to see taxes go up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At their regular meeting on April 6, council decided to reduce municipal taxes for the 2020 budget by 12 per cent so there would be a 0 per cent increase to municipal tax collected.
Chief financial officer (CFO) Allison Sinkins took council through a working document at the meeting to aide discussion, after which members recommended that the municipal budget revenues and expenses be reduced by approximately $75,000 in order to provide the 0 per cent increase to municipal tax collected and decrease the business class municipal tax collected by 50 per cent, as well as reduce the recreational parcel tax from $50.45 to $25, and remove penalties for late payments on water and sewer utility bills for 2020.
The decision to reduce municipal taxes for the budget this year by 12 per cent was required to provide the 0 per cent increase to municipal tax collected due to the dramatic increase in the 2020 housing assessment notices.
“If we did nothing we would then collect a larger proportion of tax,” Mayor Kris Olsen said of the housing assessment increase. “It put us in a situation where we had to dramatically reduce the amount of tax collected … to offset that extra money.”
The decision was significantly different from what Sinkins had recommended in the budget report on the agenda for the meeting, that council increase property taxes by 3 per cent.
That recommendation followed discussions from the Feb. 26 committee of the whole (COW) meeting, when staff still anticipated being able to move forward with a number of projects that would require budget. At the COW meeting, with direction from the budget committee, Sinkins had presented property tax increases of three per cent, four per cent or five per cent as options for 2020.
Seeing the recommendation for a three per cent property tax increase on the April 6 regular meeting agenda prompted several letters from community members who expressed concern about a possible tax levy during COVID-19.
“I feel like we’ve had a lot of pressure on this,” councillor Jesse Embree said at the meeting. “We’ve had a lot of emails, feedback.”
In addition to expressing concern, some letter writers requested that council consider freeing up budget by cutting non-essential services.
After lengthy discussion at the regular meeting, council decided to do just, prioritizing essential services, deferring non-essential expenditures and reassessing the municipal tax levy initially recommended in February.
For example, council made significant cuts to the youth programming budget since the youth centre is closed and postponed the fire inspection program, Chief Administrative Officer Lori Wiedeman told the Observer.
“The majority of the cuts were staff-related,” Wiedeman added, saying that although no staff were laid off, there were salary cutbacks.
“The changes that we’ve made are reflective of this pretty significant event that has happened.”
Olsen said that since a fire inspector cannot travel to the island right now to assess the community due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, “this isn’t the time to have a program like that implemented.”
In an update posted to Facebook on April 9, he also said he hoped the decision to reduce municipal taxes would “help to ease the pressure on our residents and businesses over the coming year.”
“We appreciate your patience as we have worked through our legislated requirements,” Olsen wrote.
“Our next step will be for the CFO to finalize the 2020 operating and capital budget for the five-year financial plan bylaw. Staff are reviewing options for including public input in our meetings and we hope to have that co-ordinated soon.”
He said more details about the staff salary cuts will become public when council adopts the new budget at a regular meeting in the future.
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