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Three or five per cent increase … check your tax bill

Had the pleasure of being a panelist on Radio Roundtable on CFIS, Prince George’s community radio station last week.

One of the other panelists was former City of Prince George councillor Cameron Stolz. So, of course, discussion turned to the city and, more specifically, the city budget. Barring a last-minute top-up for the RCMP, council looks on par to bring in a budget representing a three per cent increase over last year.

wblock-logoOr are they?

Not according to Stolz who, on the radio show, said the increase is more in the five per cent range. He suggested that the city has not divested itself of the 2015 Canada Winter Games levy, which is about two per cent. It was a temporary levy to pay for the games and combining a two per cent levy that should have come off with a three per cent increase equals five.

Is he right? Well, yes and no.

Firstly, the Canada Winter Games levy will not be applied to taxpayers in 2016.

City director of finance Kris Dalio makes that quite clear in his letter council, which is the first item on the agenda at the budget talks, and it costs: “The elimination of this levy in 2016 will result in the overall tax levy being $2,081,884 less than it otherwise would have been,” he told council.

So, all things being equal, the city started this year’s budget deliberations with $2.1 million less to play with because the games levy won’t be applied. Last year, in her letter to council to open budget talk, then director of corporate services Kathleen Soltis, told council that a general operating fund of $128.2 million would be needed to run the city. This year, Dalio informed council that general operating expenditures of $131.8 million were needed in the general operating fund, which is slightly less than a three per cent increase over the $128.2 million needed last year.

Hold on, shouldn’t the $2.1 million for the Canada Winter Games levy have been subtracted from the $128.2 million amount first, giving a starting point of $126.1 million? If so, that would put the increase to $131.8 at close to five per cent.

It appears that the city has, indeed, accounted for Canada Winter Games levy being discontinued. That’s good.

But then it also seems that the three per cent budget increase is from the amount with the game levy included. Bear in mind that a three per cent budget increase doesn’t necessarily mean a three per cent tax increase. If the city can increase its budget by five per cent and only increase taxes by three per cent, that’s good work. It means it found money elsewhere.

For the taxpayers, however, the key is to take a good look at your tax bill when it comes out in early June and hopefully you kept last year’s. That’s the only way to truly know how much your taxes went up or down (don’t forget to take into account whether your assessment changed).

And, to get on Coun. Albert Koehler’s bandwagon, successive city councils have brought in tax increases of between 2.5 and five per cent pretty consistently for the past couple decades. Maybe it’s time for a zero per cent increase for a change.

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