There is a 3.5 per cent city tax increase currently on the table - 1.5 per cent to maintain core service at current levels and to fulfill the city's contractual agreements, a one per cent hike to the road rehab levy and another one per cent for general infrastructure spending.
There are a few ways to look at these numbers.
On one hand, the two per cent devoted to roads and general infrastructure is less of a tax and more of an investment, since those improvements last for many years, benefiting everyone for an extended period of time. The other 1.5 per cent is inflationary, covering rising costs for various good and services the city buys.
That perspective combines fiscal prudence with the admission that the city's infrastructure is in serious need of improvement and that has to come from taxpayers.
But it's not the only way to look at those numbers.
Viewed through the lens of October 2011, when Shari Green opened her campaign office at Parkwood Mall as part of her bid to win the mayor's chair, a 3.5 per cent budget increase is an outright failure.
"Number one is about financial discipline and living in our means," Green said at the time. "We have to challenge our department heads to find up to 10 per cent savings in their departments. Our ability to spend needs to be tied to our ability to pay. I think we're really at the end of tolerance for tax hikes."
Those kinds of bold statement got her elected but they were unrealistic, as she quickly found out.
Contrast that to her words last February, after city council approved a 3.23 per cent tax increase.
Our community has ... reached the threshold for tax increases. A lot of people would have liked to see a zero [increase] budget, she explained. But youve seen the impact to get even to this point. Asphalt is up an average of 14 per cent a year, MSP premiums are up, B.C. Hydro rates are going up ... and somebody has to pay.
The impact she's referring to are the nine layoffs and the elimination of 28 local government positions, all part of $2 million in cuts to bring down a tax increase that had initially been budgeted at 5.13 per cent. Those cuts didn't prevent a tax hike last year or this year but they still reduced the bill.
There is one other way to look at these numbers and it points to an unwillingness across the entire community, not just by mayor and council, to make deep (and hurtful) cuts by reducing the level of service city residents receive. Selling off Pine Valley would be just the beginning in that scenario. Here's what deep cuts would really look like:
Close and sell the Studio 2880 building and site.
Stop handing out arts and cultural grants.
Close Four Seasons Pool and the Hart library branch.
Close the Elksentre.
Eliminate every city committee not directly tied to core services, such as the heritage commission and the design committee.
Pick up household garbage only once every two weeks.
Let people unblock their own driveways after the snow removal equipment clears the roads and consider compact snow on local streets and sidewalks as good enough.
Those kinds of cuts, and more like them, would take care of those 10 per cent department savings and reduce the city workforce by 10 per cent, too.
Those kinds of cuts would also make this city a worse place to live, too, particularly for seniors, the poor, and those with physical, mental and/or learning difficulties, as well as reducing access to venues and organizations key to community health and well-being.
In that light, a 3.5 per cent tax increase (make it two by finding cost savings in core services levels - um... isn't that what the core services review was supposed to do?) seems more fair and reasonable.
Still enough to grumble about, though.