Fort St. John homeowners are facing a 9% hike in their municipal tax bills this year as the city tries to balance a $5.6-million deficit in its operating budget.
An average home assessed at $343,131, up 4% this year, would pay $154 more for a total $1,833 in taxes, according to budget documents going to city council on Monday, Jan. 23.
The bill for commercial businesses, assessed at $920,549, would increase by $1,024 to $13,838, while light industry taxes would increase $1,762 to $24,829 on an average assessment of $916,688.
The city expects the tax increases to raise around $1.85 million, which would only cover a portion of a budget shortfall driven largely by unionized pay raises for city staff and firefighters, as well as increased policing costs.
“[T]he increase in salaries, wages and benefits has put a large strain on the budget," city CFO David Joy says in a report to council.
The city is facing a $3.145 million increase in contractual obligations to employees with the BC General Employees' Union and International Association of Fire Fighters union, according to Joy's report.
RCMP costs are also increasing $798,000 to cover a 3% pay increase for officers, as well as body cameras, cadet and police dog training, extended range impact weapons, pistol modernization, and blue force tracking, which a research paper from Defence Research and Development Canada describes as “military technology that provides positional awareness of friendly forces on a digital map" via GPS.
Operational spending is also increasing by $1.72 million for what the city says are maintenance projects that were previously capitalized but now covered under operations.
The city plans to draw $3.02 million in provincial Peace River Agreement funding and another $791,000 from its contingency reserve to balance the rest of the operating deficit.
“The high inflation rates we have seen over the last year have impacted every area of our operations,” says city CAO Milo MacDonald in the report. “Several strategies have been employed to mitigate the revenue increase required and balance the budget without reducing service levels.”
However, Joy says the city must still reduce its reliance on its contingency reserve and the Peace River Agreement for its operations. Using just over $3 million of Peace River Agreement funding for operations this year equates to about 11.55% of this year's allotment from the province, he says.
"Any reduction of this transfer would require an increase in tax revenue to balance the operating budget," he says. "Such an annual transfer is a reflection of the increase in additional capital assets to the City's inventory and the services required to maintain this additional inventory."
Meanwhile, city council is also being asked to review and approve a proposed $52.2-million capital spending plan on Monday.
That spending includes $22.2 million on roads and transportation, $14.1 million on facilities and parks, $7.8 million on water and sewer projects, $4.9 million on vehicles and equipment, and $3.09 million on other studies and plans.
Major projects include the ongoing rebuild of downtown 100 Street and Kin Park redevelopment, as well as sidewalks and streetlights on 84 Street between 93 and 100 Avenues.
There are also identified upgrades to the Surerus Park trails, parking lot paving at Mathews Park, and a sanitary sewer extension on 93 Street between 112 and 115 Avenues, among dozens of other projects.
The majority of the capital budget, roughly 70% or $36.3 million, is proposed to be funded by provincial grant money through the Peace River Agreement, with the rest coming from water and sewer reserves, federal gas taxes, developer contributions, and other grants.
Read more details about the city budgets in the report below.