A special council meeting was held last night (Feb. 24) at The Ridge for District of Barriere council to begin draft budget discussions for the upcoming 2020 Budget.
Though no numbers have been officially passed, council started to ask questions about the state of the town’s finances for the year ahead.
Two potential tax increases are currently being proposed by DOB staff, including a $2.80 per month rise in water fees and 7.5 per cent increase to municipal taxes.
The water charges in the DOB have not increased in roughly six years, said Chelsea Young, DOB finance officer.
Mayor Ward Stamer suggested that while the increase is understandable, the town needs to see an improvement in its water services.
“If we suggest a $2.80 a month increase in our rates…the residents will be very cranky if we’ve got brown water again without a good explanation of why,” he said.
In response, Doug Borrill, senior water treatment specialist and wastewater manager, said this year they will be testing at the park to ensure proper chemical use to mitigate water issues before servicing the public.
Tax increase to support NTACS
The proposed municipal tax increase is higher than previous years, but Young explained that it is based on a yearly increase of about 5 per cent, as well as just over a one per cent increase to cover subsidies that were passed by council late last year to the North Thompson Activity Centre and “other expenses” to add another one per cent to the operational budget.
Chief Administrative Officer Colleen Hannigan stressed that this number is not set in stone and there are ways to decrease the number such as transferring less into financial reserves or making budget cuts, among other solutions.
In late January, Glenda Feller and Lana Laskovic of NTACS approached council with a request for funding to cover the cost of gym rental expenses. Throughout the year, NTACS runs various programs for not only Barriere residents, but regional ones as well.
After deliberation, council passed the motion to provide NTACS with $13,650 for the gym rental, in addition to $7,800 requested late in 2019.
While the price tag seems high, Hannigan said compared to surrounding communities, the DOB spends much less on recreational programming. It also extends beyond the gymnasium into programs such as soccer, swimming lessons and day trips to the splash pad, said Mayor Stamer.
“Those are things that if we didn’t have NTACS, we’d have to either have our own rec department or we wouldn’t have it,” he said.
In previous meetings it was also discussed that NTACS would start to track numbers of DOB users versus regional users to see if any payment changes needed to be made.
“It’s not entirely fair for all of our residents in the municipality boundaries to be paying for all of those types of services when a lot of the people that are using those services are outside of our municipality boundaries,” added Mayor Stamer.
Council talks recycling program
Further into the draft operations budget, Councillor Scott Kershaw proposed a question to DOB staff, asking what the costs are for recycling as opposed to solid waste. In the past, these costs have been kept together under garbage, said Hannigan, as all the work is done at the same time.
Going forward, however, council should be able to better understand the costs separately, said Mayor Stamer, because of the new contract with Recycle BC.
“Not being exactly sure how we’re going to continue on with our recycling program, we’re going to have to figure out what those costs are,” he said. “If we have to turn around and have a separate truck, or we have to do something different, we’ll have to talk about what those costs are going to actually be.”
In 2018, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District agreed to enter into a relationship with the provincial program, Recycle BC. In a brochure later released by the TNRD, the contract “shifts the costs of recycling away from taxpayers and back onto producers.”
While the agreement will provide grant money to the DOB, the program may shift costs, and DOB staff will be tabling a transition plan from the current blue bags to the containers and what it will cost, Hannigan said to council. But that won’t be ready until July.
Mayor Stamer said the money provided is to encourage recycling, adding he is confident that the program is efficient financially, but will need to seriously consider budgeting if changes need to be made in the future.
“We’re the only municipality in the regional district that does curbside recycling the way we do, in a municipality our size,” he added. “All the other communities are looking at us, trying to figure it out, trying to do it the same way because they think that it’s something that we should be doing and I agree that we should be able to continue it.
“But if there’s going to be a significant cost, then we’re going to have to look at it.”
The cost of staying certified
A noticeable difference in the 2019 year-to-date budgeted and actual costs for wastewater workers to keep certified and upgrade credentials caused Councillor Al Fortin to question the numbers.
“We budgeted $1,500 and we spent (over) $5,300. How do we do that? Where does that money come from?” he said.
Both Hannigan and Young said that some of that money has come back to the District, and one of the wastewater employees had gone to a course. The DOB is also trying to get ticket upgrades completed as well.
Despite the increase in expenditures, the draft budget has stayed the same, at $1,500 for workshops and employee training. One of the reasons for this, said Hannigan, is because of cost-cutting suggestions offered by utilities manager, Ian Crosson.
Travel and education costs, as well as others, are some reasons why there was a discrepancy between last year’s projected totals. Crosson said there is an opportunity to keep credentials up to date while not also losing workers in the process.
While a portion of the sewer operator’s responsibility is to maintain their tickets as well as receive continuing education units (CEUs), it also means an operator can be away for upwards of a week, leaving the department short-staffed, he added.
“There are a lot of opportunities online through various programs,” said Crosson. “The Environmental Operators Certification Program recognizes around 6,500 different courses you can take. So, potentially, a little bit of in-house training (and) online work — we can mitigate those costs (and) we have the operators on site a little more.”
Budget meetings open to public
The budget talks will continue on March 2 during the DOB regular council meeting. This meeting is open to the public to attend and the agenda can be found on the DOB website (www.barriere.ca). If anyone would like to express ideas, concerns, or have any questions, please reach out to the councillors or DOB staff. In addition, the council meetings do allow for public inquiry where anyone can voice their opinions or criticisms directly to council.