Lake Country passes budget with 3.5 per cent tax increase

Coun. Cameron the lone vote against as budget deliberations wrap up with tax increase

Lake Country councilor Lisa Cameron voted against the Lake Country budget

Lake Country councilor Lisa Cameron voted against the Lake Country budget

Lake Country council has decided it needs to ask area taxpayers for more money to start working on an aging infrastructure system and make more capital improvements to the community of 12,000.

Lake Country council voted to pass the 2014 operating and capital budget this week with a 3.5 per cent tax increase, approximately $54 on an average single-family home assessed at $478,000.

The district’s total operating budget for 2014 is $18.9 million and has increased 2.8 per cent or $512,000. The capital budget is $3.9 million with that money targeted to big ticket items or assets that are typically long-term in nature such as land, buildings, roads, pipes and large equipment.

One of the top capital projects is the restoration of Bottom Wood Lake Road which will come in at a total project cost of $1.3 million, some of which will come from grants.

“Council thought it was important to add that. It’s a busy road for cyclists and pedestrians,” said Coun. Owen Dickie.

Other capital projects approved under the budget include:

•Phase 1 of universal water metering: $1 million

•Shoreline park development: $105,000;

•Beasley park ‘n ride: $840,000;

•Design Seymour and Clement liftstation replacements:  $100,000.

Another highlight of the operational budget is transit expansion planned for Sept. 2014 to include linking the Lakes subdivision to the Town Centre. It will have limited hourly service to start, use a smaller community bus and will involve a new route along Bottom Wood Lake Road.

This year’s budget discussions were likely the toughest in the District of Lake Country’s short history as infrastructure needs such as roads and water are pressing as well as the public’s fear of any substantial increase.

The budget passed by a 6-1 vote with Coun. Lisa Cameron the lone vote against as she had proposed a lower tax increase (2.57 per cent) largely due to the economy.

“I was really mindful of the fragile economy and our taxpayers ability to pay increasing amounts,” said Cameron. “We tried to look at a tax increase that was doable. Council is there to make the hard decisions and to be able to pick which projects we want to do in the upcoming year, because we can’t do everything. It was a council decision and I respect how everyone voted. I opposed it to show that I think the economy is still fragile and we can’t keep coming back to the taxpayer.”

Council first met last November and heard presentations from the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and senior staff introducing the 2014 Budget. In December council met to discuss the preliminary new tax base growth, operational impacts affecting 2014 as well as proposed capital and supplemental operating requests.

The council also made the following decisions:

•No increase to the sewer rates;

•No increase to garbage and recycling  fees;

•No additional increase to the water rates above what was previously approved;

•Initial approval of some capital projects that do not impact the net budget; and

•Deferral if other capital projects and supplemental requests beyond 2014.

With regard to the district’s 20-year Transportation for Tomorrow long-term plan which identified the annual funding gap for transportation infrastructure renewal and improvement at approximately $1.35 million, council did increase the funds alloted to transportation, but not as far as the $1.35 million target.

The district says the gap will challenge the community for many budget cycles to come. Council increased capital funding for transportation by $115,000 to $540,000 for 2014.

—with files from Vernon Morning Star/Distrcit of Lake Country