Is there such thing as a budget that's too lean? Chilliwack is proposing a 1.49 tax rate increase for 2015.

Lean Chilliwack budget has one councillor questioning priorities

City budget for 2015 ready to receive input from the public between now and the public info meeting at city hall on March 17

Chilliwack is planning an exceptionally lean budget for 2015, but at least one city councillor expressed discomfort with some of its priorities.

The 2015 financial plan is the leanest budget in almost 20 years with a proposed 1.49 tax rate increase — which will mean about $23 in taxes on a typical Chilliwack home.

Several city councillors praised the continued fiscal restraint at the Tuesday meeting discussion, as well as welcoming the strong boost to public safety.

The budget includes the hiring of two extra RCMP officers, two firefighters and a trainer, along with one more bylaw enforcement officer in Chilliwack.

Road repairs will roll out to the tune of $12.6 million over four years.

Construction will start soon on the Rail Trail with a pedestrian link as well as park improvements, and replacing storm drain culverts.

But Coun. Sam Waddington said he felt compelled to vote against the 2015 financial plan bylaw in the end.

He tried to get the bylaw withdrawn on Tuesday afternoon, but the motion to reconsider failed when it couldn’t get a seconder to support the idea.

“I don’t mean to throw wet blanket on the parade,” he said. “I know staff worked hard.”

Coun. Waddington questioned the expenditure of $6.5 million on replacing the local curling rink in 2018, and made a comparison using the idea of building a “rock gym” for climbers, suggesting there may be the same level of support in each community.

“It’s a lot of money for a private club,” he noted about curling, adding that there were a handful of things he would like to see more “scrutiny” on in terms of city spending.

He also questioned the cost and advisability of renovating the existing city hall building as opposed to moving it downtown.

“I’m all for not paying high taxes, but personally I don’t take pride in being at the bottom,” Waddington stated about the tax rate rankings in the Lower Mainland.

He like to see certain projects funded and the only way to do that is to tax “appropriately,”  as with the 2.49 tax rate of last year.

The low tax rate of 1.49 per cent for 2015, and business multiplier of 2.2 per cent makes Chilliwack the Lower Mainland community with the lowest tax rates of all 19 municipalities.

Introduction and three readings of 2015 financial plan were approved at Tuesday’s council meeting, with Waddington as the only one voting against. An information hearing on the financial plan and budget is set for March 17 in council chambers.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz said the fiscally responsible budget will hold Chilliwack “in good stead,” and she appreciated that they took the pragmatic approach to more support for public safety in Chilliwack.

“I am most excited about the Rail Trail,” she added.

On the subject of the Curling Rink replacement the plan is to put funds aside for it over the next three years, said staff.

Council could opt to change those priorities “at the end of this year,” said Mayor Gaetz.

She added she would be remiss if she didn’t mention that the budget items come from priorities, “ones our community has put forward, and ones they want to see rectified, like the money for tennis courts.

“These are not necessarily council’s pet projects. They come forward with a lot of consultation.”

Gaetz tried to refocus the discussion about city hall, adding the plan was to remodel the 1959 building, not get a new one.

“You may want to have the discussion about building it in the downtown,” Gaetz said, and recommended he bring it forward at the budget meeting on March 17.

But Waddington sought to clarify his intent after the meeting.

“I believe there wasn’t enough consultation on such a major budgetary issue such as our plans for city hall,” he told The Progress.

Whether renovating or going with an entirely new location, it’s a major civic decision.

The whole issue needed more discussion time with “valuable economic partners” such as CEPCO, the BIA and the Chamber of Commerce, Waddington said.

“I believe that discussion has been swept under the rug,” he said.

The first budget of a new council is the ideal time “to blow the lid off the status quo,” Waddington remarked. “The discussion should be about what are our priorities and where do we go from here.”

Introduction and three readings of 2015 financial plan were approved at Tuesday’s council meeting, with Waddington as the only councillor to vote against second and third reading. A public information hearing on the financial plan and budget is set for March 17 at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/CHWKjourno

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