Posted on 14 February 2013 by Keith Lacey
Town of Osoyoos council has passed first reading of the town’s 2013 operating budget, one that includes intensive capital spending “that is heavy on infrastructure” and a tentative 1.83 per cent tax increase that would result in a $60 a year increase on a house assessed at roughly $370,000.
Council approved first reading of the 232-page budget document following a presentation by Jim Zakall, the town’s director of financial services, last Wednesday.
“Council has made it quite clear they are going to get a lot of infrastructure projects done with this budget,” said Mayor Stu Wells, following Zakall’s presentation. “Infrastructure seems to be king this year.”
Zakall told members of council that in preparing the annual budget and five-year capital spending plan, it’s his assumption that council demands that the current levels of services in all facilities and operations be maintained. He also assumes that priority projects identified by council be completed, any property tax increase be maintained to the cost of living as directed by the current financial plan.
As expected, members of council also approved, for the first time, creating a new reserve fund to help pay for expected dramatic increases in policing costs once the town’s population officially exceeds 5,000.
Council has tentatively voted in favour of putting aside one per cent of the pending tax increase towards an RCMP reserve fund, which is expected to generate $23,200 in 2013.
The town’s policing costs are expected to rise significantly following the next national census in 2016 as provincial legislation mandates that all municipalities with a population base in excess of 5,000 have to pay 65 per cent of policing costs, instead of the current 35 per cent. This is expected to cost Town of Osoyoos taxpayers $500,000 to $700,000 once the population officially exceeds 5,000 in 2016.
“We thought it was important” to start a new reserve fund to put aside money into this police reserve fund, as have many other B.C. municipalities facing a similar situation, said Coun. Sue McKortoff.
As with all budget documents, they are open to change and council won’t be approving any final decisions until after a public hearing is held on Monday, Feb. 18, said Wells.
The draft budget has also suggested slight increases in user fees for the town landfill, sewer rates and water rates.
The parcel tax passed during a 2011 referendum that supported the building of a new home for the Osoyoos Museum Society. The parcel tax will not exceed $20.96 per household in 2013.
The property tax increase on an average single family residence would be just under $64, said Zakall.
Several major road upgrades are planned for 2013, however, local taxpayers will only be on the hook for a couple of them as developers will be paying the entire costs with five of the eight big projects set for this year.
Some of those projects include:
• Phase 2 of Spartan Drive at a cost of $346,000, all of which will be paid for out of an existing reserve fund.
• Upgrade of Cottonwood Drive from Highway 3 to the Sage Pub at a cost of $409,000. Almost $290,000 of that total will be borrowed and repaid over 20 years as approved by council.
• Lane reconstruction south of Main Street between 87 and 85 Street at a cost of $98,000.
• Completion of the intersection of 45 Street and Highway 3 at a cost of $178,000, all of which will be paid by the Osoyoos Indian Band.
• Development of the Oasis subdivision near Vedette Drive at a cost of $940,000, all of which will be paid by the developer.
• Upgrade of Nighthawk drive at a cost of $238,000, all of which will be paid by the developer.
Four major storm water management projects are also planned for 2013, including upgrades to storm water facilities along 36 Street, Bayview Crescent, Gala Crescent and the Highway 3 interceptor at a cost of roughly $360,000, with most of this paid out of designated reserve funds.
The budget also details plans to complete significant upgrades to the town’s sewer system, including spending $1.2 million from reserve funds.This includes $750,000 for a major upgrade of the town’s main lift station, $657,000 to complete expansion of the effluent water system near Osoyoos Secondary School and $120,000 to upgrade the effluent system to Desert Park.
Coun. C.J. Rhodes said this is the most encouraging budget he’s seen during his six years on council because so much money has been set aside to complete major infrastructure upgrades.
The upgrade of the town’s main lift station near Gyro Beach is crucial as the area is often deluged with water following a storm, said Rhodes.
“This is a 10 on a scale of 10 project,” said Rhodes. “It’s a huge project … so many other communities aren’t able to do what we’re doing this year when it comes to infrastructure. It’s good on our staff for realizing this (infrastructure upgrades) is something we had to do. It’s a big strength in this budget and I’m really happy with it.”
Coun. Michael Ryan remains hopeful the federal government will announce a new multi-billion dollar cost-sharing initiative with the provinces and municipalities in the next federal budget.
A similar initiative announced during the height of the recession five years ago allowed municipalities to complete major infrastructure upgrades and a new program would go a long way to ensuring more good work can be done, said Ryan.
The combination of getting major projects completed and keeping the proposed tax increase under two per cent is very encouraging, said Ryan. Wells agreed.
“I think the budget is fair and I’m really happy to see we’re prepared to spend a lot of money on infrastructure. That’s the core of every community,” he said.
The complete budget document is available at www.osoyoos.com.