No one likes a tax increase, but Osoyoos ratepayers should be pleased with their Council’s effort this week to hold the line on municipal costs.
That, effectively, is to what a 2.93 percent increase tabled by Council Thursday at a special budget session amounts.
According to the Town, the cost of the increase to a family living in a detached residence worth just over $400,000 will be a negligible $8.67 a month.
That’s less than what Canadians pay for a diluted Netflix service.
There are also nominal increases to utility rates — $3.90 for garbage/recycling, $9.66 for sewer and $13.42 for water — but even those costs are properly grounded in providing for improved community infrastructure and service.
Two big line items skewed the budget numbers this year, both essential to providing for security in the community, one imposed as the Town grew up and became — at least on paper — a city.
A full $73 of the expected $104 average annual tax increase will go to paying higher policing and fire costs.
That includes $36.39 to service debt for a fire hall approved by assent voting in 2014 and $36.97 for increased policing costs brought about when Osoyoos tipped the scales at 5,050 and became responsible for 70 percent of local policing costs.
The Town’s administration — including CAO Bary Romanko and Jim Zakall, the Director of Financial Services — has done an exceptional job of mitigating additional costs, especially when you factor in a 1.85 per cent increase in wage hikes — and a correlating increase in benefit cost — for bargaining unit workers.
A sizeable chuck of the budget increase will go into reserves to cover planned capital costs and provide for improved opportunities and projects down the road.
On the social agenda, Council has budgeted funds for age-friendly planning, will explore how it can improve health services delivery in the Community and also provided a solution to a land dispute involving dog owners and ballplayers.
One area Council didn’t effectively address was affordable housing. But the recently tabled BC provincial budget might provide opportunity to do a little social engineering without adding to its budget load.
A change in Municipal and Regional Destination Tax (MRDT) policy will now allow local government to divert some of the tourism dollars collected in the community to fund affordable housing initiatives.
Currently, MRDT funds, which are collected by accommodation providers with each overnight stay, can only be used for tourism marketing, programs and projects.
As important as destination marketing is for our community, it might make sense to redirect some of that funding to providing accommodations for tourism workers, especially since many positions go unfilled during the summer season because workers can’t find places to live.
The province has yet to set an implementation date for the MRDT change. That provides time to give a good start to a thorough MRDT conversation.
With all the good budget work and planning the Osoyoos team has done, making the most of the MRDT changes should be a vacation.