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Prince George city council approves a 1.75 per cent tax levy

The 2020 tax levy was cut from 3.44 per cent due to COVID-19
City Hall in Prince George (via Hanna Petersen).

Prince George has approved a 1.75 per cent tax levy during tonight’s (April 30) special city council meeting.

Council was looking at options for reducing the 2020 tax levy increase from 3.44 per cent to either less than two or one per cent, however, it approved city staff's recommendation that the tax levy be set at 1.75 per cent.

Administration noted to reduce the tax levy increase to less than 1.75 per cent this year, without causing a “spike” for 2021, it would require permanent staff and service reductions.

To get to a zero per cent tax levy, administration says it would've require cutting 37 full-time positions.

The city has already let go 98 staff and has 40 vacant positions that aren’t being filled.

During discussion, Coun. Kyle Sampson put forward a motion to decrease the tax levy even further to 0.88 per cent by not funding some downtown enhancements, but this motion was defeated when it came to a vote.

“I am not interested in cutting more staff than we already have,” said Coun. Murry Krause during the discussion of the recommendations.

“The administration has had three days to come up with zero and it takes months to put together the budget. We have to keep reminding ourselves we have a deadline of May 15 and we don’t have unlimited time to play with the figures.”

Another item up for discussion was the revenue and expense impacts of possibly closing the Four Seasons Leisure Pool (FSLP) for the remainder of 2020.

Reopening the Aquatic Centre, and not reopening the FSLP before the end of the year, will reduce these monthly savings between $40,000 to $125,000 per month.

The information on cost of FSLP was received by council for information with no accompanying recommendations, so no decision on the facility's future has been made.  

“Waiting for the provincial health order and the decree from the province about when pools can open and then making a decision then, I think that is the best course of action,” said Coun. Cori Ramsay about the FSLP closure.

Coun. Sampson also made a motion that all civic facilities currently closed not be re-opened before council discussion, however, that motion was also defeated when it came to a vote.

Earlier in the meeting, council approved some other cost-saving measures that were first brought forward at an April 20 Finance and Audit committee meeting in response to COVID-19 Financial impacts.

Council approved capital project deferrals valuing $24.5 million and approved proposed funding source changes for certain capital projects.

The city says some capital projects that have progressed past a reasonable point or that are required for safety will be continuing, but non-critical projects are being proposed for deferral to future years to free up funding.

Staff have selected 16 general projects for a total of $18.34 million, including two water projects for a total of $1.64 million and three sewer projects at $4.85 million.

Deferring $24.8 million in projects will leave the 2020 capital plan with a total value of $98.2 million.

Council passed the discontinuation of the Mayor and Council’s 2020 cost of living increase of 1.23 per cent, effective May 1.

This will result in $6,111 savings in the 2020 budget year.

Council also approved the elimination of the 10 per cent late fees on utility payments for the remainder of the year.  

Whereas the 2019 penalties on late utility payments amounted to just under $392,778 and the proposed change is only for the final six months of the year, it is estimated the financial cost associated with eliminating the 10 per cent penalty is half of last year’s annual figure, or $196,389.