Sidney starts 2015 with tax increase

Corporate Services Director calls 2.52 per cent jump a modest increase.

Sidney is promising taxpayers more bang for their buck in its 2015 draft financial plan.

This year’s Town of Sidney budget, part of their 2015-2019 financial plan, starts with a 2.52 per cent general tax increase. Andrew Hicik, Director of Corporate Services, says that’s the starting point.

“It’s the best starting figure I’ve had in my time here,” he said during a Feb. 2 presentation of the draft financial plan to council. “Taxpayers will be getting more services for those tax dollars.”

Most residents will not see any jump in water and sewer user fees, which Hicik said will remain at 2014 levels or, in the case of the sewer rates, drop a bit this year.

On average, he continued, homeowners in Sidney will be paying $1.10 more per month in 2015 than they did last year in town-specific costs.

Hicik said Town staff found savings in a variety of areas to help keep the general tax increase lower than in previous years — but noted the final rate could change depending on council decisions on the budget. As it stands now, he said, the Town needed $342,400 more in new taxes to balance the budget.

While looking to maintain services established in 2014 and earlier, Hicik said the 2015 budget sees both cost increases and reductions in a variety of areas that have helped balance things out.

Among the reductions:

• $86,000 saved in legislative services

• $7,300 in garbage collection services

• $2,000 in engineering and works

• $115,600 in Parks and Cultural Services

Some of the budget increases in 2015 include:

• $114,000 in RCMP contract costs

• $61,325 for the fire department’s hiring plan

• $13,000 in building inspections

• $47,500 in development services

• $222,000 in fiscal services.

Included in fiscal services is $113,500 for supplemental requests — new funding sought from the municipality in a variety of areas and council priorities. For example, this area includes requests for increased funding from the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre and Mary Winspear Centre, as well as a jump in money to the Town’s own economic development fund.

The 2015 capital budget, typically for new construction and other projects, is listed at $4.55 million — the lion’s share of $3.8 million for infrastructure replacement such as Allbay Road reconstruction worth an estimated $1.7 million.

To pay for capital items, Hicik said the Town gets the money from its reserves ($3.8 million), taxes and fees ($430,000), a carry forward of $171,000 and other surplus funds.

Hicik is also revisiting the controversial light industrial tax standardization plan that would bring an estimated $30,000 more into the Town’s coffers. In 2014, council decided not to implement it, following a series of lobbying efforts by local business. Hicik acknowledged this, noting that it will be up to council, ultimately, if it remains in the budget.

Council meets again to discuss the draft financial plan on Feb. 16, where they will get more details on supplemental requests, capital projects and complex issues in the budget. It will be the first opportunity for the public to weigh in as well, Hicik added.

“This is our chance to hear if we got it right.”

Councillors meet again Feb. 24 and 25 for their final deliberations on the 2015-2019 financial plan.