Following budget deliberations on Nov. 29, city taxpayers are facing a four per cent tax increase in 2022.
Mayor and council agreed that the biggest contributor to this increase came from the policing budget.
“We added one officer in 2020 and will add a second officer in 2022,” said Mayor Alan Harrison. “The actual increase to the RCMP budget for 2022 is significant. Almost $2 million, or a 10.5 per cent tax increase. Much of this $2 million is a one-time cost, accumulated retroactive wages since 2017. RCMP have been paid below the industry average, especially when compared to city police forces.”
Harrison said fortunately the city has been putting money away in reserve to help offset the expected bill.
“Unfortunately the estimates provided by the federal authorities were significantly lower than the final contracted amount.”
He said staff and council, faced with this significant increase, worked hard to hold the tax increase to 4 per cent.
“All cities of our size or bigger, who pay 90 per cent of the policing bill, have this challenge.”
Coun. Kevin Flynn also expressed appreciation for staff’s teamwork, as well as COVID recovery funds that helped soften the impact of the policing increases.
“Staff worked together and recognized that the RCMP unionization, with retroactive pay back to 2017, was non negotiable and everyone looked at their budgets for ways to help us afford the significant impact of policing cost increases.
“I am extremely disappointed with the federal government providing ridiculouly inaccurate estimates of the actual increased costs of the policing contract, and cannot understand how they didnt come to the table with funds to assist municipalities with this hefty bill.”
Coun. Debbie Cannon also said the significant increases in Protective Services made for a tight budget and noted that staff “did most of the heavy lifting.”
Coun. Chad Eliason pointed out the past two budgets had a zero and 0.5 per cent increase, “which are actual tax reductions compared to inflation,” he said.
“We worked hard to make sure residents still received services but had cost certainty during the pandemic. This year, the increase reflects serious infrastructure needs, inflationary pressures and the addition of a much-needed, new police officer.”
Coun. Tim Lavery called the 2022 budget the most challenging budget he’s seen so far, adding that 2023 will be similar given the needed infrastructure and requests the city couldn’t address in the 2022 budget.
Coun. Sylvia Lindgren said she is happy staff and council were able to put forward a budget does the most they can for residents.
“We have focused on the core services, increasing budgets for roads and infrastructure. We are thankful for the community groups who do so much to provide services that the city cannot and look forward to working with them over the next year to optimize opportunities for both residents and visitors to our community.”
Gratitude was a key perspective for Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond in describing the budget.
“Given the climate disaster faced by many of our neighbours, I am feeling more grateful than ever for services I might have taken for granted previously: water treatment, sewer treatment, storm water management, road networks and fire and police services.”
Despite the tax increase, she said, she is confident that not acting on the expenditures now would have burdened future councils with decisions that should have been made by this council.
Mayor Harrison added that although Salmon Arm has a four per cent tax increase, neighbouring cities are looking at higher jumps. Vernon passed a 6.88 per cent increase, while Penticton was looking at 8.5 per cent.
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