The Village of Pemberton (VOP) council has maintained a flat operating budget for the past few years and held the first budget information session on Tuesday, March 7 to give the overview to the public.
'What we did two years ago was we started a road reserve and our tax increase went solely to that," said VOP Mayor Mike Richman. In 2015, the operations budget increased three per cent in order to create the reserve, which was again added to in 2016 with another three-per-cent increase.
"All the operations are being maintained at zero increase — not even a cost-of-living increase and that's the third year in a row that our operational budget has remained as such," he said. "There's a certain amount of pride being able to say that. It shows we're headed in the right direction. These reserves should have been built in 30 years ago."
Richman explained that the road reserve that was started in 2015 is now embedded in the budget, and the formula for collecting these reserves proved invaluable when it came to the recent water-system upgrade, which cost more than $500,000 but did not involve an increase in taxes in order to pay for it.
"For that project, which was pretty substantial for a town this size, we didn't have to borrow."
Richman said the focus is on building reserves for aging infrastructures, such as roads and sewers — a necessary exercise as both the federal and provincial government offload more and more funding to municipalities, which must apply for grants.
"We're so dependent on grants. We can't rely solely on that," he said, adding that "aging infrastructures and limited grants are the reality for many small towns."
"It's growing pressures and growing populations. Most of the financial plans of two decades ago weren't set up to build these reserves."
Of the few people who attended the meeting, one question raised was how council determines whether taxpayers are comfortable with proposed increases.
Richman said council doesn't get as much feedback as it would like, but that the operational budget is online for residents to view.
"Often, we don't hear until after the fact," he said. "That's our job — to try to gauge the appetite, taxpayers' ability to pay. Those are all the things we try to balance."
There is another meeting scheduled for April 11 and taxpayer feedback is welcome. At that time, council will discuss whether any other reserves are needed that would affect an increase. The budget documents can be viewed at pemberton.ca.