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Corner Brook’s budget raises residential property tax, plans to hire tourism officer

Coun. Bernd Staeben, centre, listens to a city council discussion after presenting Corner Brook’s budget for 2019 at city hall Monday evening. On the left is Coun. Tony Buckle, while Coun. Josh Carey sits on the right.
Coun. Bernd Staeben, centre, listens to a city council discussion after presenting Corner Brook’s budget for 2019 at city hall Monday evening. On the left is Coun. Tony Buckle, while Coun. Josh Carey sits on the right. - Gary Kean

A small tax hike was probably inevitable, but the results of a citizens’ survey may have made it a little easier for Coun. Bernd Staeben to break that news Monday evening.

Staeben delivered the City of Corner Brook’s 2019 budget during a public meeting of city council Monday.

One of the highlights was an increase in the residential mil rate by 0.75 mils to 8.25 mils.

The tax hike was deemed necessary in light of the Municipal Assessment Agency decreasing the overall value of more than 91 per cent of Corner Brook’s homes.

Residential taxes account for half of the city’s overall revenues and property values, on which the tax rate is based, are down nearly four per cent overall.

The tax hike will also help offset other budgetary items such as the loss of revenue from an expanded exemption to the poll tax and an expected increase in the cost of waste collection and disposal.

“We almost had no choice,” Staeben said of the residential tax increase. “We need more revenue to do things.”

During the budget speech, Staeben referenced the results of a citizens’ survey conducted earlier this year. He said it indicated people were willing to pay a little more for services as long as they were getting good value for their dollar.

“That was really quite a profound statement from my way of looking at it … People were in the mood that the status quo wasn’t good enough anymore and we needed to expand our wings a little bit from a service provider perspective,” said Staeben.

He described this budget as being a progressive one.

Among the new spending the city will take on will be a dedicated tourism officer to act as the city’s liaison with the hospitality industry. Staeben said hiring this person will signalize the city as taking the lead in promoting Corner Brook and the surrounding area to the tourism industry.

Staeben would not say what salary this person will be paid, noting that will depend on the person’s qualifications, but said there will be substantial resources committed to this objective of raising the region’s profile in the tourism marketplace.

“We’ve paid lip service to the tourism sector for this area, but we haven’t done anything about it,” he said. “This is our first chance to do something moving forward … Council has an emotional investment in this to make it succeed.”

Here are some of the budget highlights:

- Total spending in this year’s balanced budget is $35,747,900, which is a 1.98 per cent increase from the 2018 budget.

- Residential mil rate increasing by 0.75 mils to 8.25 mils. The overall net increase for residential property owners will be 4.33 per cent.

- There will be no change in the commercial property taxes, unit charges, wastewater levies or business taxes.

- The city’s waste collection and disposal costs are estimated to be $1.42 million in 2019, up from $1.16 million in 2018 and from $929,700 in 2017.

- The city has allocated $1.2 million for its share of capital works projects for 2019. Any other funds required by the city’s share of any capital works programs will be borrowed over a five-year term.

- At the request of the Corner Brook Downtown Business Association, as it goes about refocusing its operations, the City of Corner Brook will no longer charge businesses within the Business Improvement Area a 10 per cent levy. The revenue from the levy had been directed back to the association for its operations. The DBA recently confirmed there is an ongoing investigation into alleged misappropriation of some of its funds.

- The income exemption limit for the poll tax will be increased by a further $10,000 to $32,500. This will represent a reduction in city revenues by around $80,000.

- Parking violation fines and some other development fees will be increased in 2019.

- The budget has $750,000 earmarked for the purchase of vehicles and equipment. Of this, $180,000 will go towards the $732,000 price tag of a new fire rescue truck the Corner Brook Fire Department is expected to take ownership of next fall.

- The city will be leasing two more loaders and purchasing a Bobcat skid-steer loader to help street and sidewalk snowclearing operations.

- The city has made building a new clubhouse at Jubilee Field its top priority in its application for infrastructure program funding. Pending assistance from other levels of government, the city hopes to start building the baseball facility in 2019.

- While the city now has saved roughly $11 million in collected water levies in recent years, it is still awaiting assistance from the federal government to cover the estimated $80 million it is expected a new wastewater treatment plant will cost. The federal government has mandated municipalities to be treating their wastewater by the end of 2020. Coun. Bernd Staeben, in his budget speech, urged the federal government to create a dedicated program to assist municipalities in funding large-scale infrastructure projects of this nature.

Source: City of Corner Brook

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