After five days of deliberation, City council approved the 2013 operating budget with a recommended 4.28% tax increase. The operating budget totals $288.5 million.
“This was a tight budget year,” said Mayor Morris Flewwelling. “The economy is slowly recovering, and this budget made investments in core services like policing, which we know is a priority for the community.”
The City requires a 4.28% increase in the overall municipal tax revenue to implement the approved budget. The new tax rate will be set later this spring. The municipal tax rate will be combined with the education tax rate to help determine how much property tax residents will pay. An assessed property value is multiplied by the property tax rate to determine a resident’s property tax bill.
“The demand for municipal services is always high, and council had to make a number of difficult decisions to maintain the services and quality of life we all enjoy in the City,” said Flewwelling. “We know safety is a priority for the community, and the additional police officers included in this budget are a step towards increasing the safety of our community.”
Some of the key budget initiatives include the RCMP member fee agreement which was approved with one-time funding of $150,000 and ongoing funding of $1.02 million, the addition of four officers and two municipal employees in 2013 which will cost $533,025 this year and $177,675 in 2014.
Council also approved an additional four police officers, four supervisors and four municipal employees once administration and council complete the service level review with the Red Deer City RCMP which will cost $355,350 in 2013 and $1.06 million in 2014.
In both the capital and operating budgets, the investment in core services like roads and safety were a priority. Increased funding for snow and ice control, preventative road maintenance, and additional officers are investments that will add to the high quality of life Red Deerians enjoy, officials said.
The budget also includes a 4.5% increase for electricity. Provincial transmission costs are the biggest contributor to the 2013 electricity rate increases, and options were presented to council as part of the operating budget presentation to manage the collection of the increasing costs to access the provincial transmission system.
For water, wastewater, recycling and garbage pick-up, the typical monthly cost for a residential customer will be approximately $98 per month, or about $3.25 a day. This is about a 4.4% increase from 2012, which is competitive when compared to other municipalities in Alberta.
“This year’s budget represents the core services and service levels that residents have come to expect from the City,” said Craig Curtis, City manager. “The additions of officers, and the investments we made in the capital budget for roads, and snow and ice control, are priorities for the community, and this budget reflects those priorities.”
Most councillors were satisfied with the end result of the budget.
“Overall this has been the best budget I have been involved in. I think it’s a responsible budget with a balanced approach,” said Councillor Cindy Jefferies. “I think this is about doing what Red Deerians want us to do.”
Councillor Tara Veer said she had hoped the tax increase would have been lower.
“I hoped that we had landed in more of the three per cent tax range to reflect more of a cost of living adjustment. I think generally speaking this is one of the most cautious budgets that we have seen,” she said.
Councillor Chris Stephan did not support the 2013 operating budget.
“I think the policing is good news and I think it’s something the community will respond well too. With the carry forwards, I can handle certain things but we are pushing those onto the next council and taxpayers next year,” he said. “I think the major barrier for me is the settlements with the unions. I don’t think those have been fair to taxpayers in the last three years. I hope we continue to work towards keeping our debt low and work within our means.”
In addition, Flewwelling said he was happy to have completed his 21st budget since becoming involved with council.
“I think we have a very strong council – the strongest I’ve seen in my 21 years of being on council and as mayor. No council has been more well-prepared and clear thinking and it really has been a pleasure.”