Fort St. John holds public meeting on 2019 budgets tonight

Have something to say about how Fort St. John plans to spend its money in 2019? Tonight's your chance.

City council will hold a public meeting Feb. 11 on its capital and operating budget plans for the year. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in council chambers at city hall, though an informal public drop-in session will begin at 5 p.m.

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For capital spending, council has already approved a $59.2-million capital spending plan.

More than one-third of the budget—$23.2 million—has been earmarked for roads and related infrastructure.

The budget calls for $18.6 million in spending on facilities and buildings, $10.1 million on water and sewer, $4.7 million for new equipment and machinery, and $2.4 million for special operating projects.

The bulk of the city's capital plan for 2019, $44 million, is proposed to be paid for by provincial monies through the Peace River Agreement, which compensates the city for industrial development in the region.

The city expects to receive $24.5 million this year from the Peace River Agreement, 10% of which is directed into reserves, while carrying forward unspent money from 2018 and reserves through to this year's budget.

The rest of the budget is funded by grants, development charges, federal gas tax funds, other reserves, and borrowing for local area service projects, which is later recouped through property taxes. 

Operating plan

In terms of city operations, staff have drafted a balanced $59.2-million operating budget for 2019 that proposes to hold the line on tax rates and continues to cut discretionary spending.

The city is forecasted to collect $32.4 million in property taxes this year, up roughly 2% due to an increase in assessments for commercial and light industrial properties, which offset a slight drop in residential assessments. The city will collect the rest of its budget revenues through grants, the sale of services, investments, and other transfers.

The city will see savings up to $815,000 this year on its interest and bank charges as some of 20-year loans saw rate adjustments. It’s enough to offset a $750,000 increase in salaries and benefits, up 3% to $24.5 million this year due to pay raises, increased overtime, and an increase in benefit premiums.

Staff have warned it's a one-time savings that can't be counted on beyond 2019.

Without the savings, the city would be facing a deficit budget proposing a tax rate increase of at least 3% to make it balance, according to city staff.

The city has also trimmed another $226,000 in discretionary spending for 2019, bringing the total amount of cuts over the last two years to nearly $1 million. Without the cuts, the city would need to raise tax rates another 3 to 4%, according to staff.

If tax rates are held, the average single-family homeowner will pay $20 less in taxes in 2019. Council will decide on tax rates later this spring. 

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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