Roads and infrastructure ranked most important by Merrittonians in Citizen Budget survey

·3 min read

The City of Merritt has released the results of their 2021 Citizen Budget, in which Merrittonians were given the opportunity to weigh in on items and projects they felt were most worthy of their tax dollars.

As per the Community Charter, “a council must undertake a process of public consultation regarding the proposed financial plan before it is adopted.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, council and staff faced difficulties engaging the public by traditional means. This was remedied by offering an online survey the City had utilized in prior years.

Between Feb. 22 and Mar. 3, 231 people visited the Citizen Budget page, with 76 completing the survey.

Each participant was given a $1,000 "budget", which they would then allocate in $100 increments according to their own priorities to either capital projects, ongoing programs or strategic initiatives within the city.

"The purpose of this program was to show residents where their tax dollars are being spent and allow them to increase or decrease the levels of service provided by the City," reads the introduction of the finalized Citizen Budget.

"In addition, the program allowed residents to see how these changes in service levels would raise or lower their taxes."

There were nine key service areas between which participants divvied up their $1,000:

- Airport Expansion

- Downtown Revitalization

- Roads and Infrastructure

- Active Transportation

- Water Conservation

- Attract Light Industries and Businesses

- Parkland Acquisition

- Increased Residential Attraction

- Fund Reserve Accounts.

The voting results were then compiled to show the total number of votes for each, the funding amount with the highest number of votes, and the average funding amount each was allotted.

The highest ranked category was Roads and Infrastructure, with an average spend of $257. Following this was Downtown Revitalization with $206, Active Transportation with $161, Increased Residential Attraction with $133, Fund Reserve Accounts with $125, Water Conservation with $116, and Attract Light Industries and Businesses with an allocated average spend of $92.

The lowest priority projects were Parkland Acquisition and Development, securing just $67, with 67% voting to spend $0 in this category.

Airport Expansion had the lowest ranking expenditure, with an overwhelming 82% voting for $0 in funding, and only 18% of respondents choosing to apply funds for an average of $24.

Services were also evaluated, with survey participants asked to rank the importance of each as Lower, Higher or Same.

RCMP and Community Policing, Fire and Emergency Services, Bylaw and Inspection Services, Transit Services, Planning and Development Services, Economic Development and Recreation Programs and Facilities were given a vote of ‘Same’, for first choice, with only Public Works - Roads, Parks and Infrastructure having a result of ‘Higher’ importance.

An optional section provided additional details on participants of the survey.

- 49% of respondents were over the age of 50

- 58% were female

- 63% earn over $50k per year

- 53% have lived in Merritt for over 20 years and 28% have been here less than 5 years

- 79% are homeowners

- 61% reside in apartments or condominiums

- 23% live in the Bench neighbourhood with 21% in City Centre, 21% in Diamondvale and 13% in Collettville.

The survey, which will be used to prepare and evaluate funding changes within the City's budget which have the most community support, cost the City of Merritt $2,850 plus tax.

Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald