After another long meeting, Prince George City Council has approved 2023’s budget.
After about 15 hours of deliberations on Monday and tonight (Wednesday), council has decided on a 7.58 per cent tax increase.
“For the average representative home in Prince George, that works out to about $175 in a year, or about $14.50 per month,” noted Director of Finance and IT Services Kris Dalio.
City Manager Walter Babicz noted at Monday’s meeting this was an “essentials only budget”.
The original proposed budget came with a 7.23 tax increase.
The changes came from a $600,000 reduction to the snow control tax levy, and the approval of service enhancement requests from the RCMP to hire four more officers and two more civilian employees.
That request was laid out in a report that was delivered to Prince George City Council at a special Committee of the Whole Meeting in December.
Councillor Ron Polillo motioned to use the Safe Restart Grant money to cover the service enhancement requests.
Other Councillors were against the motion, saying using the funds would just be deferring taxes to next year.
“We need to approve this enhancement, and using the safe restart to do that, is asking for your cake and eating too,” said Councillor Cori Ramsay.
“If you truly don’t want to approve this enhancement, then don’t approve it, but asking to pay for it using safe restart funds, you’re robbing our community of this future because we are going to be asked to pay for this again and again and again, not only this year, but in 2024, in 2025, in 2026.”
“Right now it’s $842,000, RCMP are in the process of negotiating, when this comes back to the budget next year, we potentially could be looking at two years worth of labour increase to this budget,” added Councillor Tim Bennett.
“I understand where you’re coming from, I realize this is a deferral, but what I’m trying to balance, and justify, and I fully support this enhancement and I’m prepared to pay for it in year two, in year three, year four, and year five, but we have an opportunity here to reduce the tax levy by almost a full percentage point,” replied Polillo.
“This is an opportunity to bring down that tax level, and I’m urging council for this year to consider it. If the motion is defeated, then the motion is defeated.”
The motion to use the Safe Restart Funds to pay for the enhancement was defeated, but Council later voted to approve the two enhancements.
Council later voted to use the remaining Safe Restart Funds to pay for retroactive RCMP pay.
Councillor Kyle Sampson also motioned for cuts of $110,000 to the Human Resources budget and $50,000 to the Emergency Programs budget, both of which were defeated.
“The reason we have these high taxes is because we have so much space,” said Councillor Trudy Klassen.
“We have this massive footprint that was desinged to have 188,000 people by this year, and that we built that infrastructure in the 1970s, and I’m not at all, by any stretch of the imagination, a proponent of high taxes, but I do believe we have to be responsible for what we’ve got, and I think the enhancements that we’ve done are responsible.”
“We as a council, the nine of us around the table, were kind of dealt these cards based on circumstance, based on previous decisions, based on inflation,” added Councillor Bennett.
“Today the decision was made to maintain service levels versus trying to look to cut service, but I think we need to use this next year to focus on how we can grow revenue.”