Budget Time is nearly over, Last Chance to wake up and smell the Coffee

Ron Bolin: April 24, 2013

The 2013 budget and the 2013-2017 Financial Plan must be finalized under provincial legislation by May 15.  The budget, the only document which truly feeds the political process in Nanaimo, has again come to a close with no real fundamental examination by the politicians who we have elected to look after our collective municipal welfare.  A previous attempt to raise the subject by Councillor Bestwick was defeated.  But, mirabile dictu, last night another attempt was put forward by Councillors Bestwick, Kipp and McKay to set parameters on the 2013 spending put forward by City Staff.  This came in the form of specific Departmental budget and other reductions which, if everything were included adds up to over $4 million dollars and would not only eliminate the 2013 tax increase, it would also reduce the $18+ million dollar borrowing which is also included in the 2013 budget. (At roughly $800,000 per one percent of property tax, this borrowing represents a 22% tax increase, not counting the interest.  We have truly kicked the can down the road… again …

The outcome at last night’s submission was to cause the first three readings of the Financial Plan Amendment Bylaw and the Tax Rates Bylaw to be postponed.  This will require a special unscheduled meeting of Council to get to the March 15 deadline.  More importantly it will give one more meeting open to the public to discuss the Budget and the specific recommendations for budget reductions which came forward last night –or may yet come forward.  Some public focus on the runaway train of municipal spending which has characterized the last few years is required.  It will be interesting to see the debate which will take place around the budget suggestions.  These were not discussed at Monday’s meeting as they modified the agenda schedule.

This year the budget, as it sits, sets increases in property taxes of 1.9% for commercial properties and 2.9% for residential properties even though the 2012 Consumer Price Index increased by only 1% for Victoria, the only island city for which this report is available from BC Stats.  Again, as has been a consistent pattern, this increase is two to three times the increase in the cost of living and, I suspect, two to three times the income increase for most of our citizens.  We are not alone in this situation.   MacCleans Magazine has just published a very provocative article in its latest issue which can be found at  http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/04/15/the-new-upper-class/  on the runaway train in public spending.  While Nanaimo’s City Manager loves to state that Nanaimo’s finances are to be found in the middle of the municipal pack in BC, this is small comfort if the pack which we find ourselves at the centre of is a pack of lemmings all surging to go over a fiscal cliff.

On Council or COW nights, at lease ‘til this budget is finally adopted, I hope you can come on down to the VICC, or watch these meetings on Channel 4, or on the City web site for the last gasps of our tax dollars as they leave our pockets and fly into those at City Hall.  And then we need to gear up for 2014.  (By the way, the tax increase proposed for 2014 is 4.2% for everybody and we are set to borrow another $12 million.)  Oh yeah, and the 2013 fees for Water go up by 7.5%, Sewer rates increase by 5% and Garbage rates are up by 3.9%, and if Council proceeds to a hotel deal and a multiplex, we will not only be out direct asset values of the gifted properties, but with lost property taxes over a 10 year period and subsidies to the businesses –all owned by millionaires- which will run them.)  Put on your seatbelts Nanaimo.  We’re in for a bumpy ride.