Merritt endorses budget, barely
It’s a vote that would have many municipal political enthusiasts on the edges of their seats, but when the final numbers were counted, the City of Merritt’s provisional 2013 budget passed at 4-3.
Prior the decision, four of the seven council members said at Tuesday’s meeting they weren’t ready to approve the budget.
Coun. Alastair Murdoch took issue with a proposed 2.25 per cent increase to residential taxes.
“I am confused. It seems we haven’t taken a look at the big picture,” he said. “This seems like city administration’s budget, when it should be the budget of council.”
Murdoch was away for three of the six budget deliberation meetings. He said he was sick.
Coun. Dave Baker said those who attended the meetings had ample opportunity to dispute items funded in the budget.
“I am a little disappointed because we had a healthy debate, at least most of us did, during the budget deliberations,” he said prior to the vote.
Other councillors in opposition wanted to toss out a Central Park Phase 1 upgrade — the addition of a lacrosse box.
Coun. Harry Kroeker said he was concerned the project wouldn’t be completed. Five councillors disagreed with his decision to axe the $700,000 project.
Kroeker said he’d rather see the money earmarked to addressing issues in Collettville, though he didn’t clarify the issues to which he was referring.
Coun. Kurt Christopherson said he wanted more information about each project before agreeing to the provisional budget.
According to the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Matt Noble, councillors had an opportunity to make additional changes during each of the previous six budget meetings.
“I don’t know why these discussions didn’t occur during those meetings,” he said. “We don’t have a Collettville project and we didn’t hear about this, so I am confused about that.”
A decision to revisit the budget would have resulted in going through budget deliberations again.
The provisional budget may now be adjusted after logistical information is received about relocating the Community Policing Office to the building beside Spirit Square on Granite Avenue, as well as installing washrooms at the back of the building.
That project would cost an estimated $350,000.
After receiving the information, council can vote on whether to fund the project. If council decides hold back funding, a decrease in the amount of money needed from the funding sources would follow.
Either the amount of borrowed money would decrease or the tax assessment would lower.
Theoretically, taking the money out from the tax assessment could eliminate any increase to property taxes.
While the budget assumes a 2.25 per cent hike for property owners in Merritt, city staff are still waiting for final numbers from provincial authorities.
BC Assessment is expected in April to release its findings about the adjustment to property taxes. Any alterations to last year’s assessments would change the tax increase.
Early estimates indicate a slight decrease in property values throughout Merritt last year, which would result in a slightly higher tax assessment come June when the notices are mailed to property owners.
The city is also waiting for the province to release municipal funding.
If the washroom project is approved, the Capital Budget totals over $4.3 million, with about $2.2 million from borrowed funds.
The 2.25 increase to taxes accounts for about $145,000.
While residents are earmarked for the 2.25 per cent increase, city administration hasn’t released the expected hike to commercial and industrial property owners.