In what turned out to be an intense public budget presentation, Port Alice’s council chamber was standing room only, packed with local residents who were asking questions and demanding answers.
The budget presentation started out quietly enough. Finance Officer Bonnie Danyk opened the proceedings by stating that “as required under Section 166 of the Community Charter, the Village of Port Alice Council will be presenting the proposed 2017-2021 financial plan to the public here at the municipal office.”
Danyk showed the audience the Village’s five-year financial plan via powerpoint presentation. She then broke down a pie chart that showed their 2017 revenue resources.
“Taxation is 28 per cent of the revenue, 49 per cent is coming from government grants from capital projects that we’re planning on doing next year. There’s 12 per cent that is in appropriation from surplus and deferred revenue. Fees, charges and other revenue is 11 per cent. 70 per cent of taxation is coming from major industrial property class; 29 per cent is coming from the residents, and the rest is spread through utilities, light industrial, business and recreation.”
During the question and answer period that followed the presentation, a large group of residents bombarded Mayor Jan Allen, Danyk, Councillor Christine Martin, and Councillor Dave Stewart with hard-hitting questions.
One resident asked about taxes this year versus next year. “Residential taxes will be increasing, but the overall tax requisition will be decreasing, and that’s a direct result of council’s decision to reduce the taxes for Neucel,” said Danyk.
Another resident asked if business taxes will go up. “No,” said Danyk, adding that they “may be slightly more, but basically the same. There won’t be much of an increase.”
What about utilities asked another resident. “We’re not expecting water and sewer to go up,” Danyk said.
One resident was specifically upset regarding the advertising for the public budget meeting, and after some back-and-forth discussion, asked for it to be rescheduled because she felt people were interested in where their tax dollars are going and they didn’t know about the budget meeting beforehand.
“I don’t think we can reschedule it,” said Mayor Jan Allen, stating that the meeting was advertised in the Gazette for two issues.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Ronald Campbell was absent for the presentation, which prompted community members to ask if he should have been present for this type of meeting. “No, not our CAO,” replied Allen, adding that “unfortunately he couldn’t be here.”
A question about salary increases for council members was another topic raised by the public.
“There was a council indemnity bylaw that was passed a couple meetings ago, so council will now be getting a cost of living increase in January of every year,” said Danyk, adding that she was unsure how much the increase would exactly be, but “it’ll be about one per cent, but that will be calculated in December.”
Another question was asked regarding who would be writing the Port Alice Rumble Sheet now that Trish Weatherall has been laid off from the Village office. “It’s in the job description for the person who works in the Community Centre, so it will be the employee in the Community Centre,” said Allen.
A question was then raised about whether the Village was financing the CAO’s personal trips to Salt Spring Island, and Allen was quick to reply that “not a dime,” was spent on his personal travelling.
Regarding the CAO’s travel expenses listed in the budget, Danyk explained that the “CAO attends conferences and meetings, so it would be the same expenses we would pay for any of our employees” to travel for business.
One resident wanted confirmation on whether property taxes will be increasing.
Danyk said “they are going to increase. Right now for residential, it’s going to be approximately 12 per cent. It will change based on how the assessment comes out at the end of the year, beginning of January. If the assessments go down for residential, then it won’t be 12 per cent, it will be a bit less, and this is a result of the 25 per cent tax cut to Neucel.”
Two different property owners stated they were upset that they have to make up the difference from the mill. “We all have to make a living, but we still have water, sewer, garbage – that all has to be paid for, and the finances have to be through taxation,” said Allen.
The final question was regarding the due diligence mayor and council did before hiring Port Alice’s current CAO. “That has nothing to do with the budget,” replied Danyk.
“We’re not getting into that now, you can come and talk to council” regarding that issue, said Allen.
At the end of their regular council meeting, Allen stated that “we had a wonderful turnout (for the public budget presentation), that was nice to see. We had one person last year and none the year before, so it was nice to see so much interest this year.”