Smithers Town Council passed three readings of the 2020 budget (officially the 2020-2024 Five Year Financial Plan) and the Property Tax Rates bylaws at a May 5 special meeting.
The budget had been written in February, but at council’s April 14 regular meeting, CAO Alan Harris reported staff had had to make adjustments to account for a net $817,000 revenue shortfall due to COVID-19.
The lion’s share of that was a $989,000 reduction to airport revenues, $331,000 of which was offset by decreased expenses.
To deal with the rest, staff transferred $417,000 from the airport surplus. Another $53,000 in short-term debt expenses will be paid out of the airport’s infrastructure reserve.
A $95,000 shortfall in hotel tax revenue was taken directly off Tourism Smithers’ budget.
Adjustments were also made to recreation user fees revenue, which were almost entirely offset by a 100 per cent decrease in direct program costs.
The remainder of the revenue reduction was taken care of by deferring purchase of new firefighting gear and the special building condition assessment project until next year.
The adjusted budget is $12.9 million.
The property tax bylaw retains the same tax percentage per assessment class for the majority of assessment classes, consistent with 2019.
With total assessments going up this year from $750.5 million to $808.3 million, however, that represents a bump in tax revenue of $453,000.
There was little discussion of either the budget or tax rates bylaws at the May 5 meeting.
Coun. Brown suggested the policy that the Town keeps total revenue from business (class six) property taxes under the total amount for residential (class one) taxes was too simplistic and does not take into consideration factors such as ability to pay.
This year the levy on residential ratepayers is $2,712,930 compared to $2,692,491 for businesses.
Harris said the only way to really assess ability to pay would be to conduct a periodic municipal census.
In any event, both the CAO and Deputy Mayor Gladys Atrill said the appropriate time to bring it up will be the next round of budget talks in early 2021.
The bylaws will be brought forward for adoption at the May 12 regular council meeting.