Tofino’s municipal council officially adopted its new five-year financial plan last week.
Following council’s unanimous vote to approve the budget at their May 14 regular meeting, mayor Josie Osborne thanked the district’s Director of Financial Services Nyla Attiana for her hard work and leadership.
“Thank you so much for your leadership throughout this process this year and all the incredible amount of work that you and your team of managers have put into this,” she said. “And, to council…thank you for all your input through the budget process. This year was one of the most difficult years we’ve ever faced in financial planning and I really appreciate everybody’s really thoughtful and respectful input into the process.”
The new five-year financial plan includes a 48 per cent tax increase over the next five years: 7.4 per cent in 2019, 9.28 per cent in 2020, 23.05 per cent in 2021, 4.03 per cent in 2022 and 3.9 per cent in 2023.
The large hike in 2021 is related to two large infrastructure projects: a $55 million wastewater treatment centre and a $10 million indoor recreation facility.
Prior to passing the budget, Tofino’s district office collected feedback from residents online, with many expressing opposition to the increases. None of the roughly 50 submissions that were received spoke in favour of the increases.
Council reviewed the community’s feedback during an April 30 meeting, where Attiana suggested there seemed to be confusion about how tax dollars are spent and how some specific projects are being funded.
She explained Tofino’s $170,000 annual summer shuttle program is funded through Resort Municipality Initiative dollars and pay parking revenue, with no property taxation revenue being used. She said the district’s two-year Multi-Modal Transportation project is being paid for with $122,000 in grants and $15,000 from taxation. She said the $135,000 budgeted for a Campbell Street improvement project is being paid for with RMI funding and grants as is the Multi-Use Path extension, with no tax dollars being spent on either project.
Osborne added that the Campbell Street project involves technical design work done by engineers.
“I just wanted to clarify that, because one of the comments was about striking a community committee to do this instead of hiring consultants,” she said. “It would be pretty challenging to find that expertise in volunteers in our community, unfortunately.”
Attiana said the district plans to spend $33.3 million in 2019, $14.7 million of which will come from taxation. She later clarified to the Westerly News after the presentation that she had misspoke and that a revenue source chart included in her presentation showed that the $14.7 million is actually coming from grants and that $4.5 million is coming from taxation.
An additional 14 per cent is coming from reserve funds.
Attiana added that the district’s operating expenses account for 22 per cent of the budget.
Tofino also collected feedback during a May 6 special council meeting where residents again raised concerns about the increasing taxes.
Resident Zack Cross asked about the relationship between residential and business taxes, specifically regarding the wastewater treatment centre. He said the resident population of Tofino is quite small, but noted residents account for about 53 per cent of the district’s property taxation revenue, compared to roughly 45 per cent from local businesses.
“I would imagine we won’t use 53 per cent of the treatment centre,” he said. “If there is some conversation that has to happen with regards to how much businesses input relative to residents, the treatment centre…seems like it would be a pretty good topic to pick, because the usage of it is probably imbalanced.”
Jack Gillie said the town’s tax levels “are getting excessive.”
“It’s unreasonable to expect that people should be prepared for these kinds of tax increases. It’s very difficult,” he said. “It basically comes down to the nature of the community. What kind of community do you want Tofino to be? The amount of tax that you’re expecting people to pay for the privilege of living here is getting to be beyond what most people are going to be able to afford.”
Jarmo Venalainen suggested Tofino’s tax increases “can only be likened to a pathogenic organism, commonly known as cancer.”
He told council that he is a member of a newly formed Tofino Ratepayers Association and that the association plans to investigate the district’s finances.
Venalainen, who ran for mayor during Tofino’s 2018 municipal election, told the Westerly News that he wasn’t surprised to see council pass the budget with little discussion during their May 14 meeting, but he was disappointed by how previous budget meetings that had included more open discussions had been advertised, suggesting many residents were unaware they were taking place.
He said the new Ratepayer Association has launched a website at thepublicpurse.ca and will be collecting input from residents and making presentations to council.
“We are going to consolidate a message through the association and we will be presenting it to council and they will be in a position where they cannot ignore it, as they have dozens of my comments, notes and letters in the past,” he said. “If you feel that the current administration has represented the interests of the community and your interests, then you have no reason to sign up. If you feel that they have not, then this gives you an opportunity to join an organization where the will and the interests of you and the community will be represented.”
NOTE: The print version of this story, which appeared in the May 22 issue of the Westerly News, incorrectly stated that the tax increases over the next five years equate to 53 per cent. They, in fact, add up to 48 per cent. The Westerly apologizes for this error.
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