The Town of Smithers has released the details of its $20.7 million draft budget ahead of its April 14 public presentation.
Taxes are to go up by five per cent. About half of that will come from increases in property value assessments.
Mayor Taylor Bachrach explained that surplus money from last year would not be used to keep taxes down and instead will top up the operations surplus reserve, as per town policy. That reserve is used for special projects.
“The idea is that we shouldn’t be using the surplus to buy the groceries,” said Bachrach.
Over $10 million is budgeted for capital projects. The Smithers Regional Airport expansion leads the way with $6 million designated for adding 6,000 sq. ft. of building space on the south end of the existing 9,440 sq. ft. building, more than doubling passenger hold room seating from 54 to 118. Plans also include new accessible washrooms, more efficient check-in, baggage handling and security areas, and renovations to the existing structure to improve energy efficiency.
“The airport is one of our most critical pieces of infrastructure. Their terminal building is quite old and has a number of deficiencies that we need to deal with. It’s right sized for the size and frequency of airplanes we’re seeing currently, but it isn’t able to accommodate very much growth in terms of airport traffic,” said Bachrach.
The airport expansion is contingent on accessing a cost sharing grant from the federal and provincial governments. Residents would also have to approve the town’s borrowing of $2 million to pay its one-third share through an alternative approval process that stops the loan with a 10 per cent disapproval, or a yea or nay referendum with a majority decision.
The cost of paying back the town’s loan is expected to be paid back through airport improvement fees according to the mayor.
“The airport kind of operates as a bit of a separate budget from the rest of the town. It isn’t currently supported by property tax dollars,” said Bachrach.
Another major capital project in the budget calls for all street lights in Smithers to be replaced with LED lights at a cost of $250,000.
That idea came courtesy of project from Rosanna Jackson’s Grade 11 class. The class presented ideas on how to improve the town to council in the fall, and replacing street lights with LED lights was suggested for Third Avenue. After a staff report on the idea came back, council decided to apply the plan to the entire town.
“It’s surprising how much our street lights cost to operate. With rising electricity rates, switching to LEDs makes financial sense and makes our community more efficient,” said Bachrach, adding that the town would save $40,000 a year once the LEDs are installed.
Wage increases for town staff and more money for RCMP services bumped up operational costs.
Some surplus from last year will be used for the $1.75 million dedicated for police protection, up by $174,000 over last year’s spending.
• Taxes are up just over five per cent, with about half of that increase from rising property values.
• Total spending is nearly $20.7 million.
• Capital projects total over $10 million, lead by a planned $6 million airport expansion.
• Other capital projects include $450,000 for a fire department storage building, $300,000 for soccer upgrades at Chandler Park, and $225,000 to replace all street lights with LED lights.
• $870,000 for new paving and street upgrades.