White Rock has adopted its 2020 financial plan and tax rate bylaw amendments, holding to a previously-determined increase of 3.11 per cent for taxpayers, while borrowing from the city’s accumulated surplus reserve to cover pandemic-related revenue shortfalls estimated at $1.8 million.
At its May 4 meeting council unanimously approved both the financial plan and the tax rate, aimed at maintaining services during the crisis and beyond without unduly punishing taxpayers’ wallets.
Other measures to protect taxpayers include deferring the penalty deadline for tax payments for residential properties by three months, to Sept. 30.
The same deadline has been granted by the province to commercial taxpayers, while school tax millrates have been adjusted to bring commercial property taxes down by an average of 25 per cent.
In response to questions by Couns. Scott Kristjanson, Christopher Trevelyan, Anthony Manning and David Chesney, chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill and financial services director Colleen Ponzini confirmed that any last-minute reduction in specific financial plan items – including deferred expenditures in hiring a city gardener and contributions to the budget for postponed White Rock BIA events – would not have the effect of achieving a zero per cent tax increase in the short term.
Bottrill added that pursuing a zero-increase option would not be advisable in light of current uncertainty about how long the effects of COVID-19 will be felt, and whether a “second wave” of the pandemic in the fall might cause a further impact on city finances.
As the accumulated surplus is a cushion against such unpredictable events, he said, there is a strong need to start rebuilding reserves – which have been depleted by some 42 per cent to reduce the current impact on taxpayers.
“There was no adjustment to property taxes – this is a large hit, but very similar on a per capita basis compared to some others in our region. If you wanted to cut costs in terms of trying to adjust the tax rate… you create a bigger loss that has to be covered by accumulated surplus,” Bottrill said
Reducing the tax increase to zero would, by a rough estimate, necessitate finding a further $675,000, he added.
“The challenge you have right now, and it’s no different than any other city, probably across the country, is every local government is going to be suffering losses.”
Bottrill noted that the city has altready reduced the amounts coming into reserves, predicated on a basis that the money would be made up over five years and taking a further $1.8 million from the surplus will create a further challenge.
“These are extraordinary times. In normal circumstances, that would not be considered reasonable. In the circumstances we find ourselves, it’s supportable.
“My recommendation is to stay the course with what you have right now.”