The City of Fernie is pursuing a zero per cent tax increase for 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. File Photo

City of Fernie budget undergoes public review

The public feedback phase for the City of Fernie’s five year financial plan ended on May 4

With the coronavirus impacting each and every Elk Valley citizen in a variety of ways, the City of Fernie is striving to ease some of the pressure felt by residents through their five year financial plan.

As a result of the worldwide pandemic and the effects it is having on Fernie residents, city council directed staff to pursue a zero per cent tax increase for 2020. This is reflected in their new five year budget, which recently underwent the public input phase, with May 4 being the deadline for public feedback.

Since the city’s largest revenue source is property taxes, a zero per cent tax increase comes with a proposed reduction of services. According to budget documents on the City of Fernie website, there will be “temporary service reductions, deferrals and reductions in planned capital spending, and a corresponding reduction in transfers to some reserves for 2020.”

As it stands, city staff have presented council with two main options for temporarily reducing costs and supporting the zero per cent tax increase. Option one is the continued closure of all city owned and operated recreational facilities for a minimum of three months. In other words, even if pandemic restrictions are lifted by public health authorities, municipal recreation facilities in Fernie would not reopen before July 1, 2020.

The other option for facilitating the tax stagnation is the deferral of capital projects.

“Every year, the city plans for capital projects to make improvements to municipal infrastructure, build new infrastructure or purchase equipment to provide city services,” said documents on the City of Fernie website. “For 2020, staff are recommending that several capital projects be deferred to provide one time cost savings and protect financial reserves.”

Several capital spending projects were discussed by council and proposed adjustments were made. For example, getting LED lighting in the arena may be deferred to 2021. Likewise, the resurfacing of the James White Park ball diamond will not happen until next year. While some projects see deferrals, others find alternative funding sources through various grants.

Despite the lack of tax increase this year and the pandemic, the city’s 2020 budget still outlines some exciting projects and services for the community that are in line with council’s strategic objectives. The proposed 2020 budget includes approximately $25.3 million in total expenditures.

Of this approximately $25.3 million, just over $7 million will go towards capital spending while the remaining amount will go into the operating budget to cover day to day expenses and operations.

Approximately $120,000 will go towards phase one of a plan to replace Fernie’s aging fire hall. This primary phase will be completed in 2020. Council and staff, thanks in part to $20,000 in grant funding, will also produce a housing needs report to help address housing needs within the city of Fernie. Another planned resource for 2020 is the development of a Climate Action Plan that will help the city make decisions through a climate focused lens.

The environment will see plenty of attention in one way or another as the city tackles a variety of outdoor projects. This includes stabilizing and repairing leaks on the primary water transmission main in the city’s drinking water distribution system, safety upgrades to the Maiden Lake area and the addition of new pit toilets, the completion of the new snow removal policy, and the Mountview Dike Improvement Project, which will help ensure the protection and safeguard of critical infrastructure in Fernie.

One large project that will go ahead in 2020 is the Ghostrider Commercial Infrastructure Replacement program, which earmarks $1.6 million for paving and upgrading roads, street lighting, replacement of underground water mains, the inclusion of a multi-use pathway and more.

Although there are several safety and infrastructure projects included in the 2020 capital budget, the City of Fernie also included money for continued community investment. In 2019, the city invested just under $1.3 million in the community “through annual grants, partnership agreements, discretionary grants, RMI funding and in kind support services,” according to their website.

For 2020, the City of Fernie plans to maintain that level of funding.

“The city will continue to advance work with local community partners in 2020 and is actively working to develop supports for the social, cultural, and economic recovery of our community.”

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