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City of Powell River CFO highlights budget public engagement

Councillors and mayor given rundown on two surveys and an open house meeting
City of Powell River chief financial officer Mallory Denniston reported on public engagement, regarding the 2024 budget cycle, to city councillors at the October 19 city council meeting.

City of Powell River Council has approved that the 2025 budget public open house and engagement surveys be scheduled after draft one and before draft two of the 2025 five-year financial plan.

At the October 19 city council meeting, chief financial officer Mallory Denniston reported on the 2024 budget process, and said this year, so far, there have been two online surveys and an open house in late September.

Denniston said the first survey was the balancing act survey which the city has used in the past. Those being surveyed balance the budget based on their individual priorities and can provide feedback through comments, plus learn more about where their tax dollars are being spent, according to Denniston.

A second public engagement was a budget prioritizing survey, which was launched for the first time to allow residents to rank the importance of city services, and to provide comments.

She then brought up the September budget open house, where mayor and council, as well as staff, were present for questions and comments.

Denniston said feedback from last year’s public engagement was to move the engagement processes up earlier so people could be better informed about the process.

“We responded by moving the engagement to September and I recommended in my report, for 2025, that we consider moving it in between draft one and draft two of the budget,” said Denniston. “It’s difficult to engage when there is nothing on the table.”

Denniston said for the 2024 balancing act budget simulation, 818 visitors were attracted. Of those, 69 submissions were received, down from the previous year’s engagement of 88 submissions.

“In summary, there were increases and decreases for certain items,” said Denniston.

Respondents indicated a preference for increases to fees and charges, government transfers and other revenues on the revenue side. Property and parcel taxes were indicated as favoured decreases.

In the expense category, respondents called for increases in roads and transportation services, planning services, cultural and parks services. Decreases were stipulated for recreation services, police services, transit services, fire services, properties, development and communications services, solid waste services and bylaw services.

Denniston said the three budget categories interacted with the most included cultural services, followed by transit services and fire services.

Nearly half of the respondents were in the 30- to 49-year-old age category, followed by 32 per cent in the 50 to 69 age range. A total of 14 per cent were 18 to 29.

In the second survey, the highest-ranked services were roads, followed by water, garbage and recycling, RCMP, fire department, recreation centre, parks, sewer, planning, library, economic development, building, airport, public transportation, bylaws, public meeting and engagement, the city harbour and the museum, according to Denniston.

Council comments

City councillor Trina Isakson said she was advocating for a different survey next year than the balancing act. She said it does not inform her in a way she finds useful.

Mayor Ron Woznow asked Denniston if there had been consideration in involving ratepayers groups in Powell River. Denniston said that had not been part of the process this year but it could be given consideration in the next budget cycle.

Councillor George Doubt said public consultation is a great idea. He said when there is something solid to talk about, such as the first draft of the financial plan, it could provide a lot more useful information.

“The more people we hear back from, the better and stronger the action is,” said Doubt.

He said at a recent Wildwood Ratepayers Association meeting, there was not broad awareness of the two surveys and the public engagement. He said a better way of communicating that these options are available would be ideal.

“Hopefully, we can get a stronger turnout from the community; we are not at the end of consultation yet,” said Doubt. “I’m encouraging everybody to take a look at the city’s website and look at the budget consultations that are still to come, then show up in council chambers and give their comments when the budget is back on the agenda.”

Councillor Jim Palm asked when the first draft of the budget would be presented to council. Denniston said it would be at the November 2 city council meeting.

Council carried the motion to have the 2025 public open house after draft one of the five-year financial plan.

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