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Fort St. John council presents preliminary operating budget

A preliminary 2015 operating budget presented to Fort St. John City Council suggests residents could possibly pay more in local taxes next year.
Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman.

A preliminary 2015 operating budget presented to Fort St. John City Council suggests residents could possibly pay more in local taxes next year.

To pay for the entire budget as suggested by city staff could mean as much as a 7 per cent tax increase, council was informed at Monday’s meeting.

According to Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman, some extra money will be needed because “the city is growing, and so we have to expand our services to accommodate a growing population.”

The report presented to council showed that the average homeowner in Fort St. John paid about $1,700 in taxes, and under this new plan, he or she would pay about $1,800.

However, the budget process is in its earliest stages, and no part is set in stone. City Council has yet to direct staff on what they would like to see in the budget, or taken out, or deferred to later years.

Also, as home values are also rising in the Energetic City, higher assessments could make up the difference without needing to raise the actual tax rate.

“We have seen a remarkable growth rate, but we don’t know what that growth rate is until BC Assessment comes,” Ackerman said. “That will be in January.”

The mayor went on to say that if the “market growth rate increases beyond that, we may be able to do what we did last year by decreasing the tax rate.”

Scott Sitter, a Peace Region assessor, said that while the final count wasn’t yet in, the average house price would almost certainly go up.

Mike Roy, the city’s director of finance, added that the city is “basically trying to maintain the current service levels.” However, regardless of revenue, staff said some new ideas might come into the operating budget that weren’t included in the budget presented by city staff.

“One (issue) that comes to mind in 2014 we didn’t see coming was the medical staffing issue,” said City Manager Dianne Hunter. “Your options when it comes to that are to drop something else from the list, or move it forward to another year to deal with some of the emerging

And Hunter suggested that city staff resources aren’t infinite. “Historically, we've been overcommitting on what we can deliver on,” she said. “(City staff) believe it needs to be done, and we can do it all. We've all made our commitment to do our part, if not 100 per cent.”

According to the draft, the city’s operating budget expenditures are projected at around $68.6 million. The largest shares of this went to general government services and protective services (such as cops and bylaw officers), which accounted for about $22 and $13.7 million,

The biggest changes for the city in the draft budget stemmed from an increase in salaries and an increase in contracted and general services.

Roy gave a simple explanation for the higher cost in these two areas: “With all the development there’s more infrastructure that needs to be maintained, and you need bodies to do it.”

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