Four councillors and members of the public put up a valiant effort to try to stop the 2021 budget from passing at a marathon council meeting May 10 but it was approved in a 5-4 vote, as were second and third reading of the levy bylaw, which establishes the property tax mill rates.
Discussion of the budget began early in the almost three-hour meeting, when the floor was opened for comments from the public.
“I am 100 per cent against the budget,” said Robert Chuckrey.
Wayne Skwarchuk, who has lived in Thompson for 53 years and is now retired, said constant tax increases have him questioning his plan to stay in the city for the rest of his life.
“I already have to give up one of my 12 cheques to pay my taxes, not including the water bills and everything that went up. When are you people going to get a hold of your spending and stop raising my taxes so that I can afford to die here in the place that I love?”
Deputy mayor Duncan Wong, who chaired the finance committee since last November, but resigned that position near the conclusion of Monday’s meeting, and councillors Les Ellsworth, Earl Colbourne and Jeff Fountain voted against the 2021 financial plan, which will see residential mill rates increase by about two per cent and commercial mill rates by 1.64 per cent and total planned expenditures of about $41 million, well above the $31.5 million that the city actually spent in 2020, which was lower than the projected budget of $34 million.
“I think we should listen to the taxpayers on the budget,” said Wong, noting that the total budget was $27.6 million when he was first elected to council in 2014, about two-thirds of this year’s projected spending. “The city’s spending more than we can afford. To me this budget is wasteful, careless, reckless, out-of-reach, no accountability and wrong-time spending.”
Saying he felt that city administration had told council what to do when it came to the budget, rather than the opposite, Ellsworth said he was voting against it even though it was difficult for him to do so.
“I don’t think it’s good for the taxpayers,” he said.
A major issue among the councillors opposed to the budget was the city raising property taxes instead of using some of the $818,000 in COVID relief funds it received from the federal government to keep taxes at 2020 levels.
“We’re stuck in this rut of spending, spending, spending where we should instead be trying to run this place efficiently,” said Colbourne. “If you vote for this, God help you in the next election.”
The city said in a press release after the financial plan was presented to the public April 29 that property taxes were bring increased in an effort to qualify for federal-provincial funding for road, water and sewer work. Though they are still pending approval, these grants could see the city complete $5.7 million of road work while spending less than $1 million of its own money, and $6.8 million of water and sewer work while contributing $1.8 million.
Councillors who voted in favour of the financial plan and levy bylaw said the opportunity to leverage additional money made increasing property taxes a shrewd move.
“You can’t pass up somebody giving you three to five dollars on your dollar,” said Coun. Kathy Valentino, who supported the financial plan and both readings of the levy bylaw along with Mayor Colleen Smook and councillors Andre Proulx, Brian Lundmark and Braden McMurdo.
Valentino added that using one-time money, like the COVID relief funds, to pay for operating expenses is not advisable.