The City of Merritt finished formal budget deliberations last Wednesday with the property tax hike still pegged at 2.25 per cent.
A major decision about the ultimate hike rests with where the city will find $50,000 in funding.
“We don’t have enough money to fund all of the projects in the capital budget, but we have different ways of finding funding,” said Merritt Financial Services Manager Pat Sibilleau, adding she recommends borrowing the money at currently low interest rates.
“Next year, the interest rates might be higher, and the projects could be more expensive.”
Merritt would pay about 3.23 per cent on borrowed money, she said.
Other options include borrowing from one of several city contingency accounts, increasing taxes by about a quarter of a percentage point, or making cuts in the budget.
Several councillors, including Mike Goetz, said cuts could be the best option.
“When I run my household, I don’t spend more money than I can bring in,” he said. “We don’t have to do every single project. I don’t think the Spirit Square washroom is imperative.”
During last week’s meeting, councillors questioned the need to install washrooms near Spirit Square, which would cost about $350,000.
“I won’t be supporting anything for a downtown washroom, absolutely not,” Goetz said. “The businesses have washrooms and I’ve seen in the past that public downtown washrooms have not been good.”
The washroom would cost about $19,000 each year to maintain.
Mayor Susan Roline, who is perhaps the biggest proponent of the washrooms, said Spirit Square could be utilized more if the bathrooms are installed.
“If there is an event at Spirit Square, there are no washrooms downtown,” she said. “This is our premises and we should be providing washrooms to our clientele.”
Coun. Dave Baker said that while he isn’t overly excited about the funding idea, washrooms may be needed.
“When we hear the Baillie House report, I wonder where they send all those people needing a washroom,” he said. “I’m not fully willing to [fund this] but the Baillie House people would be the ones who would tell us if they are needed.”
Baillie House Manager Sandy Curnow said people usually use their bathroom when they visit the Tourism Information Centre, “or if a tour bus comes, they can go to Merritt City Hall and use theirs because there’s like 30 stalls there.”
Coun. Harry Kroeker questioned whether the underutilized Spirit Square is worthy of additional investment.
“We did this project because the Walk of Stars said it would be a perfect spot for the [Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame],” he said. “But as soon as it was bought, they said it would be too small.”
Baker likened Spirit Square to “putting a Porshe in the driveway, but not being able to drive it.”
In debating what to cut, several councillors supported funding $700,000 for Phase 1 of the Central Park upgrade, but indicated cutting $25,000 for a City of Merritt app.
Council will vote on whether to accept a provisional budget at Tuesday’s council meeting at 7 p.m. at Merritt City Hall on Mamette Avenue.