Fort St. John City Council has gotten a first look at the proposed operating budget for 2011.

One of the main aspects of the budget – and the City’s revenue – revolves around tax rates. Residential property assessment values in Fort St. John have increased, on average, by slightly more than seven per cent and commercial properties have increased by an average of 0.69 per cent. Although the City is proposing to keep the 2011 tax rate in line with the 2010 rate, if property owners’ assessments have increased, the amount of tax they would end up paying would also increase.

The City’s total proposed operating budget for 2011 is $36,857,904. The difference between the 2010 budget and this year’s proposed budget is an approximate increase of $818,000. The budget’s proposed revenue comes from various sources, including funding from senior levels of government, an unchanged tax rate and utilizing part of the 2010 operating budget’s surplus.

In 2010, the City had a total estimated surplus of $1,870,435. Some of that surplus came from the City’s water and sewer funds and City Manager Dianne Hunter says despite the surplus, the City still has a bit of a deficit. Hunter says the City still has to allocate those surplus funds to pay for expensive future projects which include replacing some of its aging water and sewer lines.

A few changes outlined in this year’s budget include an increase in elections spending since it is a municipal election year, a decrease in the cost for both the collection and disposal of solid waste since a new contract came into effect in September and a continuation of the RCMP bike patrol and the corresponding positive ticketing campaign.

Hunter says the biggest cost to the City is labour but says departments have been trying to save in other ways, including by keeping energy costs down.

She says the City currently only has a 26 per cent debt ratio since Council has chosen to really only take on new debt to pay for essential services, including water and sewer systems. However, she says the City has incurred debt to pay for the Pomeroy Sport Centre.

Hunter stresses that the budget is just a proposal and that Council could alter it in various ways, by either increasing spending in one area and decreasing it in another or potentially altering the proposed tax rates.

Council will be finalising the budget in the coming months and will be voting on the budget in April.

The proposed 2011 operating budget can be accessed below.