Council wants feedback on taxes

Mission council will be listening to residents’ opinions over the next few weeks before determining the 2011 tax rate.

The four tax scenarios of 5.4 per cent, 4.66 per cent, 3.88 per cent and 3.5 per cent were presented to the public at a special council meeting last Thursday night.

Mission’s finance director Ken Bjorgaard explained some of the budget highlights and added while there are four scenarios present, council can choose to go with one or a combination.

“The District of Mission has a $58-million operating budget,” said Bjorgaard, noting the departments that require the most funding are police, utilities and engineering and public works.

Bjorgaard also noted debt repayment and contribution is another major item.

Mission’s debt is about $20 million and it still has a borrowing capacity of $105 million, but Bjorgaard said it shouldn’t be used unless necessary, and suggested it might have to be drawn upon for water and sewer infrastructure upgrades.

Utility rates are increasing by 15 per cent ($58) for water and 10 per cent ($31) for sewer this year, but there will be no cost jump in waste management.

The increases are to replace existing aging infrastructure and develop a second water source to service Mission and Abbotsford.

The new Stave Lake water source has the potential to be a public-private partnership (P3) project and that will be explored in depth over the next few months, said Bjorgaard.

He also added if the P3 proposal is successful, 25 per cent of the funding will come from senior government and Mission and Abbotsford would still retain ownership.

Mission and Abbotsford also jointly operate the sewer treatment plant, which constantly needs upgrading.

According to Bjorgaard, a second river crossing is needed in case “something goes wrong with the first one.”

Mission has capital assets totalling $493,123,060, but a lot of the infrastructure is aging and needs to be replaced, which is why Bjorgaard is recommending one per cent of taxes be allocated to reserves.

“We need to build our reserves to minimize debt and borrowing,” he said. “We’re planning to increase reserves over time and it’s being built up every year.”

By planning ahead, future generations aren’t saddled with an unfair portion.

About 50 per cent of funding for the services come from property taxes, which make up 92 per cent of Mission’s base.

The district also looks at user fees annually and adjusts them to try to minimize the amount coming from property taxation, he noted. “But it’s a balance.”

Mission councillors didn’t offer their opinions Thursday night, but encouraged residents to tell them what they prefer.

A 4.77 per cent increase is needed to maintain existing services, which includes police services (1.19 per cent or $302,915), transit (1.22 per cent or $305.113), salaries and benefits (1.97 per cent 0r 1.97) and other contractual commitments (0.39 per cent or $100,209).

That total is reduced to 2.32 per cent after addition revenue and savings were found.

The full budget scenario (5.4 per cent) includes hiring an additional police officer ($122,000), a second assistant fire chief ($66,525), funding security guards downtown from taxation instead of gaming funds ($38,940) and increasing funding for the economic development office ($35,000) and for community special events grants ($5,000).

All the proposed budgets also include a 1.03 per cent ($259,650) to fund the full-time firefighters hired in October and one per cent ($252,196) to capital contributions.

The 4.66 per cent tax hike scenario is similar to the full service one, but the district would forego hiring an additional police officer and a second assistant fire chief.

A 3.88 per cent would see the downtown security program funded through gaming revenues, a delay in implementing LiveScan for the RCMP, defer an electronic document management system upgrade and reductions in both the corporate administration and engineering/public works departments.

In order to reduce the budget to 3.5 per cent, training would be reduced for fire/rescue services, the finance department, overtime would be reduced at public hearings for the planning department, and afternoon reception coverage would be cut back for the recreation and culture department.

A second budget meeting, scheduled for Jan. 31 at 6:30 p.m. inside council chambers, will give the public an opportunity to formally speak to council on the issue.