NUMBER CRUNCHING - City Councillor Tara Veer prepares for this year's round of budget debates. The 2011 operating budget is expected to be approved by Jan. 14.

NUMBER CRUNCHING - City Councillor Tara Veer prepares for this year's round of budget debates. The 2011 operating budget is expected to be approved by Jan. 14.

City council delves into $263.5 million operating budget

Take hikes expected to remain low, says City manager

Red Deer residents are facing a 3.74% tax increase this year if City council approves the 2011 operating budget as presented.

Red Deer City council is currently working through the operating budget which totals $263.5 million. Budget presentations began yesterday and it is expected the budget will be approved by Jan. 14.

“The overall goal of the 2011 operating budget is adjusting to economic recovery,” said Curtis. “The City needed to make adjustments to keep us on track for the longer term vision we have for Red Deer while adjusting to the slower than anticipated economic recovery.”

Some key budget initiatives include the RCMP member fee agreement at a cost of $850,000, a Red Deer Public Library budget increase totaling $119,000, increased snow removal service at bus stops at a cost of $100,000 and an increase to the snow and ice control program.

Other highlights include a transit fleet increase totaling $235,000, as well as the purchase of an additional Action Bus, parks growth and crown paving.

“As part of this year’s operating budget City departments were asked to put forward cost savings or revenue generating options which will be presented to City council,” said Curtis. “This was a difficult budget and the cost savings put forward to council help us adjust in these difficult times.”

Some of the potential cost savings that will be presented to council include reducing the hours of operation of recreation centres on statutory holidays and low use days, eliminating the tax pre-payment program, closing recreation centres on Sundays at 9 p.m., eliminating landfill coupons, closing four low use snow bank rinks and not filling certain City vacancies until construction revenue increases.

In addition to the cost savings, the Mountain View County dispatch and Newell 911 Association dispatch contracts will generate additional revenue for the City.

“The budget was prepared based on the need to be responsive to the community’s desire to keep tax increases to a minimum during these difficult times,” said Lorraine Poth, director of Corporate Services. “We have seen decreased revenues and lower returns on our investments and have aligned the budget to accommodate for this.”

The submitted budget shows an average tax increase of 3.74%.

Based on the submitted budget, a home, which experienced the average assessment value change and is assessed at $280,000 for the 2011 tax year, will see an average monthly increase of $4.71, weekly increase of $1.09 or a daily increase of 16 cents towards the services used on a daily basis.

One component of the services Red Deerians use on a daily basis is utilities such as electricity, water and waste water. The City’s utility rate models are influenced by a number of factors and the region’s growth has been one of the major drivers. Upgrades to the water treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant to meet new environmental standards and increase capacity as well as upgrades to the City’s electrical infrastructure has had a significant impact on the City’s finances and resulted in the need to increase rates.

For an average household in Red Deer it is estimated users will see an electricity rate increase of 5.4%, and an approximate 9% overall increase for water, wastewater, recycling and garbage pick-up.

Rates for utility services in Red Deer are competitive when compared to other municipalities in Alberta, said Curtis.

Meanwhile, the 2011 capital budget was approved in December. Council approved a capital budget which totaled $86.2 million.