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Courtenay city council defeats mayor’s tax freeze, service review

COURTENAY, B.C- A property tax freeze in Courtenay has been shut down by city council

During last night’s meeting of Courtenay city council, mayor Larry Jangula introduced a motion aimed at stopping a planned increase for taxes in the community. He was also seeking to launch a “Core Services Review”, to try and find more savings in city operations.

The pair of planned cost increases in the coming municipal budget have been listed as a 10 per cent user fee increase for the water fund, as well as a 25 per cent increase to frontage fees for capital needs in the same fund. The sewer fund is also seeing a 10 per cent user fee increase, with no change in frontage fees.

A single-family residence with an average frontage of 21.83 metres will likely see a combined annual increase of $67.85 in water costs. For sewer costs, user fees are increasing from $294.70 to $324.17, with the frontage fee remaining constant at $10.24 per metre.

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During last night’s meeting, Jangula had wanted to put in an “immediate tax freeze” at 2017 rates, along with the services review. However, his motion fell flat in the council chamber.

Around the table, councillors were opposed to the move. Councillor Erik Eriksson took particular issue with the potential service review, though he did second the motion for discussion. He believed the launch of a review would suggest to the public that council hadn’t been “doing its job” when it came to municipal finances.

“I don’t think we deserve that criticism,” said Eriksson, in the chamber.

“I think we all worked hard, as well as our staff, to make sure things are properly in line.”

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Councillor Doug Hillian also spoke in opposition to the mayor’s motion, saying he didn’t want to “tie staff’s hands” and that approval of the mayor’s motion would be equal to a vote of non-confidence in Courtenay’s city workers.

Councillor David Frisch was another voice in opposition, questioning which core services would be under review in what the mayor was proposing.

“Would we be reviewing roadways, water, sewer, recreation?” asked Frisch, in the chamber.

“It should be noted that, even though I open my tax bill and see it’s gone up $200 or $300, I recognize there is quite a bit of value in that tax bill. I think a lot of issues we have is relaying those benefits to our citizens and saying ‘this is the value you’re getting when you pay those three or four thousand dollars every year’,”

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The final vote on the motion ended in failure, with five councillors opposed. Only Jangula and councillor Manno Theos voted in favour.

After the meeting, Jangula said he wasn’t surprised by his motion’s failure.

“We have a council that really means well, and really cares about people,” said Jangula.

“What happens is that it’s so hard to say no. There are so many good groups. But the reality is that when you say yes, you’re taking money that can go somewhere else.”

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According to Jangula, he had wanted to get a discussion on a tax freeze on the record, and on the table, even though he expected council not to be supportive.

He also said he hadn’t meant the service review to be a “slap at staff”, though he did compare jobs in public service to a jackpot win while speaking with reporters.

“We have great staff, but there have been lots of studies out there about people who work for municipal government, and provincial government, federal government, have really hit the jackpot,” said Jangula.

“When you look at the salaries and you look at the benefits, you look at the pensions, you look at all of the things that go with it, doing any job that there is in this community, it’s at least double or triple, in many cases. You’re not going to find those kinds of benefits and pensions in private industry.”

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Despite this stance, he also indicated that he didn’t want anyone in the municipal workforce to lose their jobs, and instead wanted to see the city consider the use of more private contractors.

“Even if we did decide that this job might be better or more efficient or more cost-effectively handled another way, we have lots of time to phase them out,” said Jangula.

“And I’m not suggesting that for a minute.”

The municipal budget will be finalized in the coming months.

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