District sets 2020 budget in motion

Taxes rising by 2.7 per cent

The District of Houston council has formally adopted the District’s 2020 budget through a bylaw passed May 5, setting the stage for property owners to receive their tax notices and for the District to put spending plans into place.

Overall, the budget calls for a 2.7 per cent tax increase which, for the average assessment applied to a Houston home, works out to $16.35 or $1,073.68 this year compared to $1,057.33 in 2019.

At this time, the District has not extended the property tax deadline date from July 31, 2020, nor adjusted the date on when late payment penalties will be imposed. The Province has varied the penalty dates for Class 4, 5, 6, and 7 properties to September 30, 2020. Staff are reviewing options for extending the property tax deadline date to bring forward for Council’s further consideration.

Total revenue from taxation is scheduled to be $4.258 million with major industry contributing $1.58 million of that total, residential taxpayers $1.321 million, businesses $746,476 and light industry $477,380.

With revenues from areas such as utilities, water and sewage rates, grants from senior governments, fees and charges and transfers from reserves and the District’s surplus, total spending is forecast to be $19.079 million.

That’s a marked increase from previous years, reflecting major capital expenditures such as the 9th Street rehabilitation and beautification project now getting underway.

The budget also contains specific increases for initiatives that have been in the planning phase for some time.

One of those initiatives is the 50/50 sharing of a bylaw enforcement officer with the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, an expense costed out at $56,600. The District is forecasting a $5,000 in ticket fine revenue as a result of increased enforcement.

One net benefit in this year’s budget comes from the unallocated portion of a $4.486 million provincial grant received last year. Investing that unallocated portion is expected return $25,000 to the District.

This year’s budget has now been folded into the District’s five-year financial plan, an evergreen document whereby a year is dropped as it finishes and a new fifth year then added.

For 2021, for example, total revenues are forecast to be $14.151 million, a drop from this year’s $19.079 million, mainly from a reduction in transferring amounts from reserves being used this year for capital projects.

This year’s budget is also essentially the same as prepared by staffers for Council’s consideration late last year so it does not reflect cost increases or revenue declines from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we progress, we will be monitoring our current cost-reduction measures and making a determination on further cost-reductions based on actual expenditure results observed,” said District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck.

Water and sewer rates, charged separately from property taxes are also to rise — two per cent for sewer and five per cent for water.

A typical residential customer can expect to pay $346.80 for water this year and $190.05 for sewer. Water charges for businesses are based on volume and sewer charges are based on the type of business.

Cemetery, arena, and garbage collection fees are rising by two per cent.

In regards to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the District has not extended the property tax deadline date, said District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck.

“Staff are reviewing options for extending the property tax deadline date to bring forward for council’s further consideration,” he added of all nine property taxation classifications.

But the province has varied the penalty dates for major industry, light industry and business taxation classifications to September 30, 2020.

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