Houston taxpayers will see increases in their utility bill and property tax in 2015.
The two big factors impacting the District of Houston budget are the Houston Forest Products closure and the Water Treatment Plant.
Mayor and council had their first budget meeting last Thursday, with the next two meetings scheduled Dec. 4 and Dec. 11 with the new mayor and council.
The District will lose $480,000 in tax revenue due to the HFP closure, but Director of Finance William Wallace says the budget has already been reorganized to prepare for that revenue loss.
“We got to the bottom of planning what needed to be done for local government operations, pretty much by the end of 2013. Then we spent all of 2014 actually doing it. Now that 2015 is going to arrive, we’ve done the major things that needed to be done,” he said.
The District cut costs this year by not replacing retiring staff and reorganized their budget so they don’t need to make significant cuts to facilities and services.
The Water Treatment Plant construction is scheduled to be done January but Wallace says District staff estimate the plant won’t be running until June 2015 because of all the pre-start up work. That work includes cleaning all the pipes in the water system in Houston.
Once the plant is running, Wallace says it will cost the District $119,000 annually.
Residents will see increases in utility taxes with single family dwellings paying $25 more per quarter, or $100 more per year. That will be an increase from $241 per year to $341 per year for the utility bill of a single family dwelling, Wallace said.
For metered water users the change will be the same, with rates increasing from 61 cents per cubic meter to 85 cents per cubic meter after the plant is running.
These water costs are on the low end compared to other B.C. municipalities with water treatment and storage, Wallace said.
Property taxes are also seeing an increase of 2.75 to 3 percent.
This will raise an extra $100,000 to help the District cover costs with their financial transition plan.
“Most people won’t see much of a difference on their bills… and it’s pretty equivalent to what most small municipal governments do every year,” Wallace said.
The extra tax revenue will help the District with 2015 staff costs, energy costs and dealing with B.C. Hydro increases, and a few other projects.
It will help pay the Chamber of Commerce for their work on tourism and economic development, and help pay for Houston Public Library services, cemetery maintenance, and an emergency preparedness program.
Wallace says he is impressed with what the District has been able to maintain even with such a significant revenue loss from HFP.
It maintained “its core staff group and all its core facilities without much of a noticeable change,” Wallace said.