Where do your Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) tax dollars go?
As the March 31 deadline for the RDBN final budget approaches, Hans Berndorff, RDBN financial administrator and Bill Miller, RDBN chair and director of the Burns Lake rural area presented a Feb. 21, 2013 draft budget to Houston council last week Tuesday.
Property taxes for region-wide services have been on a steady decline from at least 2009. In 2009, property owners paid $103.86 per $100,000 in property value. In 2013, property owners are projected to pay $77.87 per $100,000 in property value.
Berndorff attributed the largest part of this decline in RDBN property tax to an increase in the industrial tax base, with projects like the Mount Milligan Mine coming online.
The RDBN is bound by a different set of rules than a municipality such as Houston.
Where the Houston council has the latitude to move funds around to balance the budget – and aren’t even bound to have a balanced budget – the RDBN doesn’t have this flexibility.
It must produce a balanced budget, with all services paid for by their own user tax base. Funds cannot move between services as properties within a service area are taxed for those services, and not services used exclusively in other tax areas.
In 2012, property owners in Houston paid $312,379 into RDBN region-wide and local service, and through the RDBN $9,772 in grants were brought into the Houston rural area, and $30,000 was put towards the Morice Mountain Nordic Ski Club.
Rob Newell, RDBN director of the Houston rural area says the ski club money was for upgrades to the Day Lodge, Alpine cabin and groomer shed, as well as trail repairs, bridge and culvert repairs, and better signage – a project that the club is still seeking more funding to complete.
Rural property owners within the Houston fire protection area also pay into the Houston fire department through RDBN taxation. Those outside the fire protection area don’t receive fire protection services.
The 2013 provisional budget projects $1,742,000 in taxation, with hefty draws on capital reserves and previous budget surpluses to cover the cost of large 2013 expenditures. Previous RDBN surpluses of $2.6 million, and another $1.4 million in capital reserves, will be used to cover the difference between tax revenue and expenditures.
The two biggest costs in 2013 will be the $3.1 million Burns Lake hospital replacement, and the $2 million Vanderhoof hospital outpatient renovations. Other major expenditures include: the Vanderhoof chemistry analyzer ($49,200), Fort St. James electrical upgrades ($160,000), and Fort St. James air handling upgrades ($100,000).
Miller says the RDBN has brought in over $1 million annually through successful grant writing, and over the past six years, grants have brought $6.4 million into the RDBN.
Lobbying by RDBN elected officials and staff has also meant that 80 per cent of the Burns Lake hospital replacement will be provincially funded.
Overall, the projected 2013 RDBN budget for region-wide and regional rural services is expected to be $69,555 higher than last year’s budget.
The increase, from $4,614,307 in 2012 to $4,632,862 in 2013, will not be shared evenly by rural and municipal taxpayers. Because of the service user base, rural taxpayers will see a 1.5 per cent increase to RDBN taxes while municipal taxpayers will see a 1.8 per cent decrease.