Fort St. John city council begins 2019 tax rate talks next week

Fort St. John city councillors will get an overview of the city’s $59.2-million operating budget next week, and start discussions about what to do with tax rates in 2019 as staffing strains continue to mount. 

City staff will present a balanced budget to councillors on January 7, with tax rate and revenue stability two key questions for council to consider, along with funding for future staffing needs.

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The city projects it will collect $32.3 million in property taxes this year, up slightly due to an increase in assessments for commercial properties. The city will collect the rest of its budget revenues through grants, the sale of services, investments, and transfers.

In his presentation prepared for council, David Joy, general manager of corporate services, notes city tax rates have decreased twice and remained unchanged twice over the last five years, while tax revenues were unchanged between 2016 to 2018.

Keeping tax rates the same for 2019 will see a $471,000 increase in taxes, while raising rates 1% would raise just under $766,000.

If rates were to remain the same at $4.86 per $1,000 of assessed value, the average single-family homeowner who saw their property values drop on par with the city average would pay roughly $20 less in taxes.

If council wants to keep tax revenues the same for 2018 — roughly $31.7 million — tax rates would need to decrease by 1.62%, Joy notes.

However, the biggest spending line in the city's operating budget is for staff salaries and wages, and the biggest pressure on the budget is continued pay hikes under the collective agreement.

That’s an issue expected to loom large in the coming years.

While tax revenues have remain largely unchanged the last three years, workloads have increased and staffing strains are being felt across the board, Joy notes.

“Basing FTE growth on property assessment value growth partially ignores the services and service levels expectations of the public to plan, develop and properly maintain an increase in land hectares, additional road kilometres and creation and development of subdivisions and an overall increase in infrastructure,” he writes.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca

Fort St. John 2019 Draft Operating Budget by mpreprost on Scribd

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