Banff to see a 4.28 per cent tax increase
Wednesday, Dec 09, 2015 04:13 pm
Banff residents can expect to see a 4.28 per cent increase on their tax bills next year.
At the final operating budget meeting Wednesday (Dec. 9), Banff town council affirmed a $36.3 million operating budget for 2016-18 and expects to officially sign off on it on Dec. 17.
Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said the tax increase – which amounts to an overall monthly increase on an average residential dwelling of less than $8 – is very reasonable.
“Administration provides a zero-based budget and we spend many, many hours deciding what level of service we want to provide to our residents,” said Sorensen after the budget meeting.
“Ever year costs increase and we thoroughly investigate what services we provide. I feel the tax increase for what residents get is reasonable. I believe our residents get good value for the taxes they pay.”
Next year’s operating budget sees an addition of $252,686 to address a gap in wages for certain Town of Banff positions, including staff from the operations division such as labourers, drivers and equipment operators.
Following a review, wage data collected from comparable markets in April 2015 demonstrates that most job grades have fallen behind the 50th percentile in the years since the last market wage review took place in 2012.
Banff’s compensation philosophy targets the 50th percentile, including the value of benefits.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Councillor Ted Christensen fought hard to cut the budget in many areas, including a move to scrap spending $252,686 to address the wage gap at least until next year.
“As time goes on, I appreciate the work our staff and our crews do, but I think my crystal ball is a bit murky,” he said. “Considering the economic reports I hear on CBC, things aren’t pretty in other places in Alberta. I would like to see us hold, not expand, at this time.”
Christensen did not get the support from the rest of council on the issue, with Mayor Sorensen noting a lot of research had been done on the wage assessment.
“The idea of moving it forward to 2017 only expands the problem and we’re already behind,” she said. “Our financial plans state we will pay our employees within the 50th percentile and for lots of reasons, we’ve fallen behind that,” she added.
“I want to get this fixed now, and with a new process, so we don’t find ourselves here in future years.”
Other new initiatives in the 2016-2018 operating budget include $89,638 for a permanent 0.8 full-time equivalent housing sustainability coordinator and $12,640 for a summer student for Banff’s planning and development department.
There’s also $25,500 to extend a contract for enhanced bylaw services coverage in summer.
In addition, there’s $40,000 to develop a strategy for moving towards a goal of 100 per cent renewable energy community-wide by 2050, which will be funded from the environmental reserve.
Council also approved close to $100,000 to outside agencies which offer programs and services to the community, such as Bow Valley Victim Services Association, the Banff Community Library, Banff Lake Louise Tourism and Banff day care, among others.
Christensen also tried to slash other services and initiatives from the budget, such as $8,560 for the Whyte Museum’s project to microfilm local newspapers, but was largely unsuccessful.
He did, however, get support to remove $3,500 in funding to support the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley’s environmental programs.
“We have lots of needs and everyone wants everything now. We need to be as lean as we can,” he said.
Heading into the meeting, the tax increase was closer to five per cent.
Council decided to remove $15,000 from the operating budget dedicated to the heritage fund reserve, pending a report from administration in the new year on options for funding that diminishing reserve.
As well, administration indicated it had understated revenue projections from police fines, so council added $150,000 for each of 2016-2018 to the operating budget in projected revenue.
Coun. Chip Olver wanted to keep $150,000 in operating for 2016, but transfer the $150,000 to capital reserves in each of the following years, but did not get the support from her council colleagues.
“A five per cent tax increase was too much for me personally, but at the same time I didn’t feel comfortable removing any of the service levels,” said Coun. Grant Canning. “In my mind, this is a gift from the budget gods.”
Meanwhile, the average residential property that uses approximate 19 cubic metres of water per month and included one dwelling unit would see a monthly increase of $2.84 for water, sewer and solid waste on their utility bill. This is equivalent to a 3.5 per cent increase from 2015.
Council is expected to pass three readings on this at the Dec. 17 meeting.