City of Fernie city hall. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

City of Fernie city hall. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Fernie budget passes 5-2, with 5 percent tax increase coming

Councillors also voted to create a housing affordability reserve fund

City of Fernie councillors have voted to approve a 5 percent municipal tax increase for 2022 as part of the five year financial plan for the city.

At a special council meeting on Mar. 7 2022, councillors voted 5-2 to support the increase, which covers a projected budget shortfall of $291,817 (requiring a 3.9 percent tax increase), and includes an additional 1 percent increase to establish an affordable housing reserve fund, into which the city could dip into to support affordable housing projects and initiatives that come along in Fernie.

Councillor Phil Iddon spoke against the budget as it stood, saying that he believed in incorporated too many expanses beyond the city’s core services responsibilities.

He said he considered water, sewer, waste and protective services as being core, but as seen in the budget, the city was “spreading itself thinner over things that stray from our core services.”

He added that given that many in Fernie were unhappy with services as they existed now, “spreading these things further about, we’re setting ourselves up to fail.”

Councillor Morgan Pulsifer also spoke against the budget, taking issue with the process of how reports from community groups partially funded through the city were not baked into the system earlier on. He said that the process as it had occurred didn’t leave enough time to go over their funding allocation in context with the entire budget. The groups delivered reports after the first reading of the budget, rather than before as was the case in 2021.

Community partners include institutions such as the Fernie Museum, Fernie Library, Arts Station, Seniors Centre and Fernie Chamber of Commerce (to operate the Visitor Information Centre). Around $662k in municipal funds go to those groups.

The budget will be adopted at the Mar. 14 council meeting.

In other votes taken on the same night, councillors voted unanimously to support the creation of an affordable housing reserve fund, into which a little over $81k will be poured into in the 2022 budget, coming from the aforementioned 1 percent increase in taxes this year.

Councillors also voted unanimously for staff to create a report on how the city could support the development of new childcare spaces in town.

In a summary of feedback to the budget which had been open between February 24 and March 2, Chief Administrative Officer with the City of Fernie, Michael Boronowski said that ‘top themes’ were affordable housing and “sensitivity around out-of-town homeowners and speculation”, as well as concerns with costs of housing, living and the tax increase.

Boronowski also said many respondents to the call for feedback (of which there were 108) expressed a desire for increased services from the money currently spent, a recognition that critical infrastructure will require investment and a desire for more efficiencies in city hall before an increase in staffing costs.

Notably, many respondents questioned whether it was the city’s role to take on affordable housing and childcare as an issue the municipality could help address.

READ MORE: Fernie opts for 5 percent tax increase for 2022: City budget
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Municipal Government