CORNER BROOK Deputy Mayor Bernd Staeben described putting together the first budget for the current Corner Brook city council as a ‚Äúdaunting‚ÄĚ task.
Faced with things like the loss of a $660,000 municipal operating grant, normally given by the provincial government, and an expected 67 per cent cost in waste collection and disposal fees, Staeben said it was not easy to balance the budget while not raising taxes or fees for property and business owners.
The city is also going to get an estimated $150,000 less in poll tax after approving a budget that makes many full-time students in Corner Brook exempt from paying that $200 annual tax.
Despite expecting more than $800,000 less in operating revenues and another $800,000 or so in increased costs in the coming year, the 2014 budget will be nearly three per cent lower than it was one year ago. This year‚Äôs budget rings in at $30,281,300, compared to the $31,189,800 budget delivered for 2013 last December.
‚ÄúI believe it warrants repeating just how daunting the task of balancing this budget has been,‚ÄĚ said Staeben, who chairs the city‚Äôs corporate services policy advisory committee.
The residential property tax will remain at 8.0 mills for the coming year, with seniors on a fixed income still able to apply for a 15 per cent discount. The commercial property rate will stay at 12.5 mills, while the general commercial business tax mill rate ‚ÄĒ the rate which applies to most businesses in Corner Brook ‚ÄĒ is unchanged at 17.0 mills.
While the levies applied to water and sewer services will also not be rising, the city will require the installation of a water meter in all new residential and commercial construction, effective in 2014.
‚ÄúThe information gathered from these water meters will be analyzed to understand the water usage patterns and to educate residents and business owners on the importance of water conservation,‚ÄĚ said Staeben. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs quite simple really, the more you save, the more we all save.‚ÄĚ
The city is on the hook for $26 million of the $50 million cost for its new water treatment plant, which will be operational in 2014. Corner Brook has already begun paying down on that debt to the tune of $1.75 million per year.
To help offset the cost of the plant, the city will apply the one-time $4 million in capital works funding provided by the provincial government in lieu of eliminating the municipal operating grant to it.
Staeben asked the provincial government for its continued support in helping Corner Brook maintain its position as a regional service hub for western Newfoundland. That included a call for the province to expediently come up with the new municipal fiscal framework it has promised to replace the abandoned municipal operating grant system.
‚ÄúThis council implores the provincial government to complete this process as quickly as possible as we cannot plan for the future without knowing the rules of the game,‚ÄĚ said Staeben. ‚ÄúJust as we are expected to bring down our municipal budget in December each year, we should have the right to expect that the province also provide us with clear direction on how it intends to proceed before we make any financial decisions.‚ÄĚ
As of Jan. 1, the City of Corner Brook will relinquish its responsibility for the Wild Cove landfill site to the Western Regional Service Board. The board has advised the city that the tipping fee for 2014 will be $48.73 per tonne, which the city expects will drive its waste collection and disposal costs up to $979,000.
That will be a 67 per cent increase from the $588,000 budgeted by the city for that expense in its 2013 budget.
Staeben said it is anticipated that the financial burden placed upon Corner Brook taxpayers will increase significantly as the provincial waste management strategy is further introduced in coming years.
‚ÄúIt is imperative that, as residents, we all work together to reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill,‚ÄĚ he said during his budget speech. ‚ÄúIt is not only important for the environment, it is important to our bottom line.‚ÄĚ
Staeben said the city will do its part by implementing further measures and education initiatives to encourage all residents and businesses to reduce the weight and volume of garbage.
In terms of the sometimes controversial poll tax, which the city previously raised from $175 to $200, council has decided to increase the exemption limit such that any full-time student earning less than about $23,000 in the prior year can apply to be exempt from paying the tax.
‚ÄúI would like to make it clear that council is committed to reviewing the poll tax in future years and hopes to eliminate it entirely before the end of this council‚Äôs term,‚ÄĚ said Staeben.
The city does plan to generate some revenue by charging municipalities or property owners for all costs associated with calls the Corner Brook Fire Department responds to outside its jurisdiction.
‚ÄúThe Corner Brook Fire Department will still respond to calls outside of our boundary when asked, but the city will no longer provide those services free of charge,‚ÄĚ said Staeben.