Burnaby proposes 2.47 per cent tax rate increase

Burnaby Coun. Colleen Jordan -
Burnaby Coun. Colleen Jordan
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Burnaby city hall is looking at a 2.47 per cent property tax rate increase for 2014.

The tax hike is part of the city's provisional financial plan and is necessary to fund wage increases set out in union contracts, operational and inflationary increases and new services, according to a report by the director of finance. The increase already factors in budget cuts that will be made across city programs to minimize the impact on taxes.

The provisional plan is an interim budget put out while city staff finalize the annual financial plan, which must be adopted by council by May 15.

Meanwhile, changes are being proposed to Burnaby's policy on how it spends its share of revenues from Grand Villa Casino.

Coun. Colleen Jordan, vice-chair of the city's finance and civic development committee, said she suggested creating the new policy document to put all the amendments from over the years in one place.

It will also add one-time operational costs and trips by city delegations to sister cities as items eligible for gaming funding.

Currently, guidelines for the gaming funds are that it be spent on one-time capital projects that protect or improve Burnaby's environment, heritage, public safety or arts and culture. It also funds grants through the Festivals Burnaby project to a maximum of $670,000 a year.

The major capital projects it has funded over the years include $12.7 million towards the dredging of Burnaby Lake, and the new Eco-Centre recycling facility and city works yard, still under construction, on Still Creek Avenue, which will cost a total $30 million.

The casino money has also paid for parkland acquisition, the cleanup of the former gun club sites at the foot of Burnaby Mountain, the tram barn for the restored Interurban tram car at Burnaby Village Museum, high-density shelving at the city archives, police vehicles, the switchover to garbage toters and upgrades to the festival lawn at Deer Lake Park.

Jordan said Burnaby receives 10 per cent of the net revenues from the casino, which amounts to roughly $10 million annually in recent years. At the end of 2012, Burnaby's gaming reserve fund stood at $60 million.

While Burnaby council has made a point of not using the money for the city's operations due to it not being a secure source of funding, occasionally it has approved its use for  operating costs of projects. For instance, Jordan said, it provided $300,000 over three years to the Burnaby Art Gallery to increase its level of programming, a move that also helped leverage grants from elsewhere.

If approved, the new gaming fund policy will include such one-time operational costs as projects regularly eligible for casino dollars.

Funding for such programs would be limited to the previous year's interest on the gaming reserve, currently $2 million to $3 million annually.

"We're saying we can use that to supplement operating programs and things that are one-offs," said Jordan. They would have to be programs that have no long-term effect on the city's budget, with any staff hired to be only on a temporary basis, "it's not going to go on forever."

Any of that funding that's not used by the end of the year will be added to the gaming reserve fund. And any projects funded by gaming funds will continue to require council approval.

Burnaby's sister city and international relations expenses—both trips made by city delegations and the hosting of delegations here—would also be funded through casino dollars under the proposal.

"We'll take that away from people saying, 'you're using my tax money for trips to China and things.' So that's going to be funded from that from now on."

She noted that there is a great demand, especially from Asia, for city officials to visit and do sister exchanges. Under the new proposal, "it won't be like it's coming off the tax draw."

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