Budget time is just around the corner, and the staff of the Town of Golden are working to find the balance that will serve the people of the area in the best way.
Town of Golden Chief Administrative Officer, David Allen explained that all B.C. municipalities are required to have their five year financial plans adopted by councils by May 15.
In the past, the town has had the plan adopted by March 1, but due to the fact there is a new council in place the staff and some councillors needed to go through an orientation process.
“The way we try and do it here is that council sets a strategic direction for the town and we develop a work plan based on that. We then go back to council and say based on what you have told us your priorities are, here is a way we think they can be met.” said Allen.
He added that staff has already held a meeting with council as part of the discussion process and the group will meet again before the document is set to be presented for a first reading at the open council meeting on April 10. The week after that there will be an opportunity for public discussion with the different managers on April 17 starting at 1:15 p.m. at a Committee of the Whole Meeting in the council office Chambers.
“Even though we can’t say for sure at this point, I can certainly say generally what the big issues are,” Allen said. “Number one for any small town or city really in North America is asset management,” said Allen.
He explained that many towns and cities need to be putting money aside to fix an aging infrastructure in their communities but part of the issue is where do the funds come from.
“It is out of sight, out of mind. A lot of the time, putting enough money aside to replace and maintain infrastructure is a challenge for many communities,” Allen said.
Another issue Allen sees as being problematic as time moves forward is the reliance of town on property taxes.
“It is something we continue to rely on but in my view it is not a sustainable long term form of revenue generation,” Allen said. “There are retirees on fixed incomes who are living in a house they purchased 40 or 50 years ago, and have a land value that may be very high, but their ability to pay the tax on that property is probably very limited.”
Allen said the town has three forms of revenue.
“You have property taxes, users fees for things like the arena, the pool or the civic centre where people pay to use a facility…and there are grants,” he said.
Allen said that in most cases you are lucky to get 50 percent of the cost recovery from user fees for facilities in town and in the case of grants there is no guarantee you will receive them at all.
“Grants from other governments, those are not guaranteed and almost none of them are unconditional. Most have strings attached. There are a number of things the Town has to do. Sometimes they are good things but the days of unconditional grants seem to be disappearing,” Allen said.
One of the challenges of laying out a budget is how to balance a high level of service without raising costs.
“If you want your sidewalks and roads plowed then there is a cost to that. If you want to have lower costs then you have to have lower level of service…Are people going to be willing to accept that?,” Allen said. “It’s against the law for council to adopt a deficit budget, so those are the sorts of questions that people and council have to wrestle with and we need to get more forms of revenue.”