Vernon’s projected tax rate is below zero, but it may not stay there for long.
Council hammered out a 0.4 per cent decrease in taxes during a committee meeting Tuesday.
“That’s not where it will end up,” said Coun. Jack Gilroy.
“We have a bare bones budget and we’re drawing into reserves which is insanity. We have infrastructure needs and we have to think beyond 2011.”
Council will meet again Feb. 14 and Gilroy forecasts a final budget with a one per cent tax hike.
“We have to look at what we need,” he said.
Coun. Buffy Baumbrough is urging her colleagues to look at the current state of reserves.
“It’s really important to maintain a level of reserves when you look at the budget in the long-term,” she said.
“It means that some time in the future, we won’t have to hit taxpayers with a major tax increase all at once. We also need to be able to deal with unexpected issues.”
Coun. Bob Spiers isn’t satisfied with the financial approach taken by the rest of council.
“I’d like to see a decrease (in taxes) of five or six per cent,” he said.
“I’m not firm on whether I’ll vote for this budget. There are items I voted against that are substantial enough — I think we could have done better.”
Among the measures taken to get a 0.4 per cent decrease were trimming the grant to O’Keefe Ranch, budgeting for 50 police officers instead of 52, taking $300,000 from salary reserves to cover some extra projects and instructing administration to find an additional one per cent of reductions in the overall budget.
Items added to the budget were renovations to the Lakers Golf clubhouse, operating the north tourist booth and signalization at intersections.
Council decided Tuesday to take $800,000 out of casino revenue and direct it towards transportation demand management initiatives like transit, trails and bicycle paths.
“The cost of infrastructure for maintaining roads for vehicles is greater than infrastructure for alternate transportation,” said Baumbrough.
“It also ties in with our official community plan and the overall vision for the community.”
Of the $800,000, $200,000 will go into a transit reserve. And while that move was unanimous, some council members expressed reservations.
“We live in a spread-out city and two-thirds of the area wouldn’t consider getting on transit. It’s too far,” said Coun. Shawn Lee.
“This is a transplanted philosophy to us. We’re not the Lower Mainland, we ‘re not London or Toronto. We’re a small city.”