DEBATE - Councillor Ken Johnston listens to discussion around the council table during 2017 Operating Budget deliberations.

Council lowers tax rate even more after second day of budget

Red Deerians now face a 2.28% increase this year with deliberations continuing tomorrow

  • Jan. 12, 2017 5:08 a.m.

The second day of operating budget deliberations at City Hall saw the tax rate increase lowered to 2.28%.

Council started with a 2.45% increase yesterday.

The reduction came as a result of a council decision to fund permit and subdivision revenue shortfalls on a one-time basis through surpluses. Doing so removed the two items, and a total of $210,000 from the 2017 tax requirement.

These shortfalls were attributed to the weak economy, where the number of building permits issued last year were down 25% and revenue from subdivision and planning application fees came in lower than expected.

Funding those shortfalls through surpluses was an expression of confidence that the economy will rebound. It also flags the issue for review next year.

“The economy may or may not have recovered by then but what it does is, it uses dollars that the community has already invested, instead of overtaxing them in this budget year and it flags for council to revisit the issue next year,” said Mayor Tara Veer.

The economy also has an effect on parks, recreation and culture.

Council supported increased funding to the Fee Assistance Program by $40,000. The program gives eligible residents, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them, free access to any recreation facility and up to $200 per year towards City programs.

Councillor Ken Johnston called it a, “Small item but very, very important” one that will help the City’s most vulnerable.

Lower participation in parks, recreation and culture services has resulted in reduced revenue in that department. The City is freezing fees while maintaining service levels. That will cost $270,000 in 2017.

“I think it shows a sensitivity to the fact that we are navigating through an economic normal like no other. The fact that usage is down at City facilities is concerning,” said Veer. “We recognized that not only are more people living in poverty, more people are living now on the threshold of economic challenge. We needed to be responsive to that and to hold the line on costs of accessibility to facilities.”

While it wasn’t an economic consideration per se, the false alarm fee charged to residents and businesses will increase to $80 for residences and $121 for businesses. This represents full-cost recovery, as the previous fee was only $20. Council heard this is to decrease the number of false alarms that RCMP respond to.

joseph.ho@reddeerexpress.com

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