City all talk and no cuts on budget

Nine councillors met for more than three hours Tuesday morning in City budget discussions but didn't come up with a penny in savings.

Despite the lack of progress, Mayor Peter Milobar said he remains comfortable the City will be able to come up with a combination of revenue increases and spending cuts to pare the proposed four per cent budget increase in half.

City treasurer Sally Edwards presented revised preliminary budget numbers to a special Kamloops council budget meeting. Those numbers show slightly more than a four per cent tax increase for Kamloops property owners if changes aren't made.

Councillors have said publicly they are targeting a two per cent increase, requiring a reduction of about $1.6 million from next year's budget.

The budget process will see one more council meeting before a public presentation, Tuesday, Feb. 8, followed by a final meeting to prepare budget numbers.

"That's where all the cuts get made," said Milobar, adding he is comfortable being a long way from the two per cent goal.

"We bring together all the input and information on the revenue side before we start cutting."

Councillors were also presented with a breakdown of taxes by classification showing the amount paid by business creeping upward. Ten years ago the business share was 26.6 per cent; today it is 28.2 per cent. Residential taxpayers pay about 58 per cent.

Coun. Tina Lange said she'd like to see the business percentage brought down, similar to the reduction council made on heavy industry several years ago.

"It keeps going up. It's hard for a small business person to swallow."

Lange suggested the share could be reduced by about two per cent over five years, beginning this year with a half-point reduction.

But that notion received no support from her council colleagues.

"I'd have great difficulty shifting over to the homeowner, period," said Coun. Pat Wallace.

Coun. Denis Walsh, like Lange a downtown small business person, said also he wouldn't support shifting business tax to homeowners.

"I wouldn't want to burden residential taxpayers more than they are. A lot of people have had zero wage increases and there's lots of other pressures."

Council did agree to push the Tranquille Road lighting project to six years rather than five. But public works and utilities director David Duckworth said there won't be annual savings because the City will contract out a design study this year that will cost another $125,000.

The study will tell administration where trees need to be relocated, for example.

While council remains $1.6 million away from its target, Milobar said surplus figures for 2010 together with more accurate tax roll growth from B.C. Assessment Authority may provide a major boost on the revenue side that will negate need to make cuts.

Among budget increases that cannot be curbed are RCMP pension contributions and salary increases for staff.

"We need to see those numbers."

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