Vernon budget weathering economic storm

Council takes tough first look at 2013 financial plan

City of Vernon officials are tightening the belt.

Council was given its first look at the draft 2013 financial plan Friday and virtually every department will see little operational growth. Fee hikes or service cuts are also possible.

“To be blunt, this is a tough budget,” said Will Pearce, chief administrative officer.

“These are challenging economic times and this budget prepares the city to weather the economic storm.”

The overall budget is 1.8 per cent higher than this year ($448,041). An actual tax increase will not be determined until council has an opportunity to review the draft document further.

Administration has provided solutions to replace $2 million in reserves that were used to supplement the 2012 budget.

The options include fee for service hikes or service reductions.

“We ask council to select at least $1.5 million from this list,” said Pearce.

Another focus of the budget is to protect assets like sidewalks, roads, parks and sewer/water lines.

“Failure to do this is not an option and could have catastrophic consequences,” said Pearce.

Council is being urged to increase property taxes 1.9 per cent a year over a decade for infrastructure. That would generate about $6 million.

Among the challenges facing the city’s financial plan are $448,000 less in provincial traffic fine revenue and a loss of $479,000 because of a change in service provisions with the regional district.

Council will meet between Jan. 16 to 18 to discuss the draft budget and three readings of the financial plan bylaw are anticipated Jan. 28.

Mayor Rob Sawatzky won’t speculate on a potential tax increase.

“We want a very frugal, sustainable budget but we’re also being made aware of the costs to maintain infrastructure,” he said.

“There will be considerable debate to achieve these goals.”

Coun. Catherine Lord isn’t sure what changes will be made to the draft plan.

“There’s always room for movement but staff is more diligent than last year in what they are looking for and keeping expenditures down,” she said.

Coun. Juliette Cunningham welcomes the focus on asset management.

“It’s a serious issue. Our infrastructure is old,” she said.