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Council holds public consultation meeting on budget

The District of Mission has not presented a budget with a zero per cent tax increase in at least 38 years, said Mayor Ted Adlem last night at a special council meeting to garner public input.

That's according to anecdotal conversations with long-time residents like Coun. Larry Nundal, who said he's never heard of a budget going forward without a tax increase.

"Council has a taxpayer-in-mind philosophy with regards to municipal finances," said Coun. Tony Luck, finance chair.

The achievement was no small task, as a Nov. 3 draft budget document from the district's finance department indicated there would be a 6.18 per cent tax increase.

Instead, staff in almost every department were asked to create a base budget at 90 per cent of 2011 levels, eventually resulting in $1.6 million in savings. This was done, said Luck, with minimal impact to jobs and services.

The fire department, for example, opted to do its own janitorial work in the fire halls to save $16,000, which will allow the district to keep the Leisure Centre open on statutory holidays.

"Initially this may mean some difficult priority-setting and choices, but in the end our community is better insulated against economic downturns if we're living within our means," said Luck, adding the Core Services Review contract, announced Wednesday as going to Acton Counsulting Ltd., will likely end up making Mission one of the leaders in local governments' response to greater fiscal accountability in the region.

That doesn't mean all homes in Mission will see no tax increase. As explained by finance director Ken Bjorgaard, BC Assessment's average valuation change for homes in the district increased by 0.07 per cent, which means that taxes will rise or fall based on that benchmark.

As well, municipal taxes account for only 59 per cent of a residential tax bill, since the district collects taxes for regional partners on their behalf.

The district has enacted several temporary cost-saving measures during the three-month Core Services Review, set to finish in June, including a hiring freeze, a freeze on council remunerations, and a voluntary tax contribution on 2012 tax bills. This will enable "those who would like to see projects that are off the side of municipal core services still move forward using a voluntary funding process," said Luck.

Bjorgaard explained the process of how the district was able to get to a zero budget, which included $220,000 in savings from RCMP integrated teams under the new contract with B.C. that will see the federal police force pick up 20 per cent more of the tab.

The total budget will be $58.9 million, the same as in 2011, with $7.35 million in capital spending projects, including $1 million in energy efficiency upgrades, $1.1 million in pavement upgrades, and $1.8 million in vehicles and equipment replacement.

The district has a debt of $19.425 million, but is in a relatively healthy position with a $158 million borrowing limit, said Bjorgaard.

Tax revenue from new construction is forecast to be higher in non-residental projects in 2012 for the first time in many years.

Bjorgaard also said the need to bring reserves up to meet future capital spending plans should be helped by a projected $600,000 surplus in 2012.

"We understand there's going to be major water and sewer infrastructure upgrades in the medium term," he said, adding that's why water and sewer rates will be both be rising two per cent in 2012.

As water becomes a greater priority for the district, Adlem said they will look into an incentive program that would see homeowners be retrofitted with water meters.

"Are we going to go out and spend a lot of money on water meters? No. But we're going to offer incentives to people to have them put in," he said.

Several residents asked questions and made suggestions following the presentation by Bjorgaard, including Pam Alexis who was concerned about cuts to the district's Cultural Resources Commission. Following a motion by Coun. Nelson Tilbury, that funding was restored.

All detailed budget information can be found on the district's website.

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