Posted on 21 February 2013 by Keith Lacey
Town of Osoyoos council is one vote away from approving the 2013 operating budget and five-year capital plan after second and third reading of the 230-page document following a public meeting Monday night in council chambers.
Council is expected to pass the budget during its next regular meeting scheduled for Monday, March 4.
The draft budget prepared by senior administration calls for a 1.83 per cent property tax increase, of which one per cent will go towards the establishment of a new RCMP reserve fund to help defray the expected high costs three or four years from now when the town’s population is expected to surpass 5,000 people for the first time.
Under provincial legislation, all municipalities in the province that officially exceed 5,000 in population are responsible for paying 70 per cent of community policing costs as opposed to the current 30 per cent for towns and villages under 5,000.
When the next national census takes place in 2016 and the town’s population officially exceeds 5,000, as expected, it is predicted it will cost local taxpayers between $500,000 and $700,000 annually.
Town council has tentatively approved putting close to $80,000 in a 2013 reserve fund to help pay for those costs down the road. A total of $23,000 of that fund will be raised through a one per cent increase in municipal taxes, while the remaining $56,000 will be transferred from a general reserve fund.
If the draft budget is passed, as expected, without any significant changes on March 4, it will mean a tax increase of $65 for a house assessed at $370,000, said Jim Zakall, the town’s director of finance.
Only two members of the community took the opportunity to address council during Monday night’s public hearing.
As he has done for several years, local self-proclaimed “council watchdog” Sy Murseli took 40 minutes to voice areas of the draft budget where he feels council could save money.
Murseli, who has ran for town council on numerous occasions in the past, was particularly critical of the town’s huge bills paid to True Consulting, the town’s main engineering contractor.
He also repeatedly questioned the amount of local taxpayer dollars (roughly $100,000) spent on providing funding to Destination Osoyoos, the town’s official marketing organization.
The only other speaker was Joe Gaspar, who spoke at length about council’s recent decision to build an effluent line from the town’s lagoon to a sandpit located near the Desert Park racetrack facility.
When Gaspar suggested council’s decision was illegal, Mayor Stu Wells assured Gaspar all proper certification to complete this project was in place and Gaspar was misinformed.
Despite repeated attempts by Wells to have Gaspar talk about the budget process, it fell on deaf ears as Gaspar would only talk about this one issue.
Following the presentations, Wells said council was prepared to pass second and third reading of the budget, leaving one final vote by council on March 4 to officially adopt it.
Coun. C. J. Rhodes said this is the best budget he has been a part of as a member of council since he was elected five years ago.
“I just want it stated on the record that I’m very, very happy with this budget,” he said. “It’s a good budget.”
Rhodes is particularly pleased with the large number of large and medium-sized infrastructure projects slated for completion in 2013, including major road, water and sewer upgrades and an $800,000 to upgrade the town’s main lift station near Legion Beach.
“If we don’t pay attention to these things, we’ll be behind the eight ball like so many other municipalities across this country,” said Rhodes. “Most communities in Canada simply don’t have the resources we have here … most are in crisis mode.”
Wells agreed upgrading infrastructure in many areas is a major focus in this budget, as requested by members of council, and staff has done a superb job prioritizing several major upgrades.