With the three public budget consultation sessions finishing last week, the final work of setting the Kamloops municipal tax rate for 2013 has begun.
For the next few weeks, council will mull over what they heard. Then on March 12, council will review all of the public input and begin final deliberations on the tax rate.
If every item on the proposed and supplementary budget is adopted, the tax increase will be 7.34 per cent. No one around the council table supports such an increase. Items will be cut, but in some cases, based on the wishes of citizens, items may also be added.
Through January and February, including a very snowy Jan. 29 meeting (suitably on snow plowing and other public works), scores of individuals came out.
For a total of 10 hours, the people of Kamloops told mayor and council, and all of the City's senior staff and top managers what they wanted their tax dollars spent on.
Some people came out for only one meeting to address one specific item. Others came out for all three meetings to give input on parks and recreation, public works, development and engineering, fire, and policing.
It was great to see the amount of passion and concern people have for their city. Some people wanted more services (which means more taxes or user fees). Other people wanted fewer services.
While there were hundreds of people that came out to speak, the one who sticks in my mind is the young man who came out to ask for more mountain bike trails, and also for more budget to make sure the existing trails were less prone to erosion.
He spoke about how much the current trails benefit youth, how maintaining the current trails is important, and how increasing the number of trails will help more youth get involved in the community.
He spoke about how spending tax dollars to provide a service makes Kamloops a better place to live.
His request sums up budget deliberations.
Every year council must decide how much money to spend to maintain the current infrastructure we have. One item on the City's supplementary budget is $340,000 for a roof replacement for the Tournament Capital Centre. Council can say no to the request. But that comes with a risk. If the roof is never replaced, eventually the structure will deteriorate. However, it may be possible to wait another year.
Second, every year, council must decide if additional requests for services are added. Citizens have requested a water park in Westsyde at a cost of $300,000. While there is a cost, there is also a benefit of having a great place for families to spend a summer day. As with any new request, council must decide if the additional cost will bring a net benefit to the city.
Of course, we could cut services. But as our population grows, so do our needs. While Kamloops is considering hiring two new police officers this year, at a cost of $110,000 in 2013, Kelowna is considering hiring 20, largely because they have not hired any new police for a number of years. It is often more prudent, in the long run, to make small yearly increases.
Thanks to everyone who came out the budget meetings and who have written, emailed or tweeted their requests.
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