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Councillors engage public about City of Powell River finances

Finance committee hosts open house for dealing with taxation and financial plan
HOLDING CONVERSATION: City of Powell River resident Kathryn Hjorleifson [left], with city councillor Cindy Elliott [centre] and finance committee chair councillor Trina Isakson, attended an open house session to delve into taxation and the five-year financial plan. Those in attendance could meet one-one-one to have informal conversations about financial matters.

Taxpayers had the opportunity to get direct information and pose questions about taxation and the 2023 to 2027 five-year financial plan at a recent public engagement session regarding taxation.

Instead of the usual monthly finance committee meeting, councillors and finance department staff held an open house on March 23 at Powell River Recreation Complex, where City of Powell River residents could attend and interact with city councillors and chief financial officer (CFO) Mallory Denniston.

Councillor and finance committee chair Trina Isakson said the main reason council wanted to hold the session was because regular meetings can be intimidating and not a natural place to hold conversations when people have questions.

“Holding an open house where people of all types could come in and have more natural conversations one-on-one with members of council or staff, when they don’t necessarily feel like they want to come to a council meeting, is a more approachable way for members of the public to learn about things, ask questions, or even just listen in on what other people are asking,” said Isakson. “They can have more natural conversations about issues they care about.”

Isakson said there were some standard questions and information that people were seeking, so staff prepared information sheets those in attendance could take away.

“Obviously, the finances of the city are pretty complex, and no one piece will tell people exactly everything that the city spends money on, but there was information on the draft five-year financial plan, and our CFO brought in a big binder of all the reports so if people wanted a very specific piece of information, they could find it,” added Isakson. “There were also links to the open-book budgeting tool where people can dive into current and past year’s budgets and really drill down into specific departments if they want.”

Fielding questions

Isakson said she fielded a variety of questions from those in attendance. She said one person wanted a better understanding of debt, deficits and balanced budgets. The person wanted to understand how the city could have significant debt when the city is required by the province to have a balanced budget every year.

“It’s possible to have debt in connection to that, because in order to have a balanced budget, we need to pay the payments on that debt,” said Isakson. “For example, someone can have a mortgage for a couple of hundred thousand dollars and they are still able to have a balanced household budget because they are able to make those payments on that debt. So, I explained the debt and deficit and balanced budget questions. We don’t run deficits like the province or the country might.”

Isakson said there were other questions about the change requests in this year’s budget, and wanting to understand what information the city had when it made decisions.

“It was great to speak to that resident about the information that I, personally, find important when making decisions, and hearing the information the taxpayer thinks is important, and making us aware of those points. For people who really dive into the budget, there were some good questions like that.”

Isakson said she considers the open house to have been a valuable exercise.

“The ability to have casual conversations is really helpful,” said Isakson. “Looking forward to future years, I’ll be working with the CFO to explore a little bit and bring to council the right time for these sorts of activities.

“Based on the budgeting cycle, it may be helpful to hold these sorts of events around when the tax notices come out. Taxes and budget are on people’s minds, and if council gets more input on budget priorities, and people want more or less services, we can use that guidance when we start the budgeting process, which happens as early as August. For finance, it is important to have more informal activities for residents to have these conversations.”

People with questions about the budget and taxation can still reach out to councillors and the finance department by emailing questions or statements to [email protected].