The 2011 Nanaimo Budget: A Fudgit Budget?

Ron Bolin: Nov. 24, 2010

The city of Nanaimo’s assertion that if it wasn’t for spending on the Quarterway Bridge and Bowen Road and hiring more police and fire officers, we wouldn’t need a tax increase is a lot like me saying that if I weren’t going to get a new car and hire another servant next year, I could live within my means.  To date I haven’t seen any operations information that indicates that these new expenses are required at this time.  Such data may exist, but if so, it seems to be held close to Council’s chest and taken for granted.

Over and above that we are going to raise water rates by 5% again, remembering that these ongoing raises are subject to the magic of compound interest.  Why?  One gathers that we are getting ready for the hordes of new citizens who may descend upon us and for whom we must be ready.  But what are Development Cost Charges (DCCs) for?  And why are they not adequate to meet the challenge? How much more should current citizens pay to bring newcomers?  Why?  Should we establish a fund and simply pay people to move here?

We are living in a time when food bank and meal program lineups are long and getting longer.  We live in a city with one of the worst child poverty rates in the province. Yet City Hall persists in acting as if we were living in fat city.  Such delusions of grandeur cannot go on forever and each year that we over-reach leads us closer to a bad end.  The Conference Centre alone eats up about 4-5% of our annual property taxes and would be enough, had we not built it, to cover all our tax increases and then some. I include here not only the annual operating costs of the Centre but the foregone interest on the reserve funds which we invested here (about $30 million), but the interest on the loan which we took out (about another $30 million).

There seem to be a number of methods by which we can adjust our finances to our means.  We have started toward a first step with the introduction of the Core Review study which should be done in time for the 2012 budget review.  Other ideas which could be examined for 2011 include:

  • In acquiring the services of personnel primarily needed to perform a systems review, for example of energy, water use, transportation networks, etc., we can use contract services.  Tasks which have finite goals are better served by bringing in outside experts who do their thing and then leave.  Such system review tasks have a defined end and the implementation of a system is often best left to those of a different skill set.
  • We can use Local Improvement fees for more local improvement issues, e.g. sidewalks, storm sewers and other facility provision or improvements which primarily benefit a local area.  Local Improvement charges were previously in wider use than in more recent times.  Council recently voted for the use of Local Improvement charges in Cilaire where residents want a higher standard of replacement street lighting than is normally provided by the city.
  • We can stop providing the capital assets for supposedly free market businesses.  Next year we are building a concession stand at Maffeo Sutton Park which will replace the independent vendors which have been serving us well there for many years.

I am sure that there are many ways in which we could reduce our tax footprint without reducing our quality of life in Nanaimo.  Your ideas on how this could be done are required by our Council.  They need our help.