City council passes $349.2 million operating budget

  • Jan. 20, 2016 4:05 p.m.

After nearly seven days of deliberation, City council approved a $349.2 million operating budget last week with a 2.9% tax increase.

The 2.9% increase in the operating budget is made up of 1.53% for operating costs, 1% for capital savings, and 0.37% in downloading costs from the provincial government.

“Given the economic reality we are navigating through, this is our lowest tax increase in 15 years. The last time the tax rate was below three per cent was in 2001. This year’s budget is all about balancing vision and the needs of our community with our current economic reality,” said Mayor Tara Veer. “We were faced with a number of opportunities and some challenges during the 2016 budget debate; however, I believe the budget approved not only enables us to maintain existing programs and services but ensures responsive enhancements in critical areas our citizens have identified for us like transportation, safety and infrastructure.”

The tax increase means for a homeowner’s property that has seen an average change in assessed value and is assessed at $325,000 for the 2016 tax year, this equates to an increase of $55.97 for 2016, or $4.66 per month.

The 2016 tax rate will be set later this spring. That tax rate will then be combined with the education tax rate and the Piper Creek Foundation requisition 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.

“Eighty three per cent of citizens surveyed as part of the City’s annual citizen satisfaction survey told us they get very good value or fairly good value for their tax dollar,” said City Manager Craig Curtis. “We believe this budget continues to provide good value for each tax dollar, balancing the current economic climate while not compromising the future.”

The approved operating budget includes a 1% capital contribution in 2016 and 2017. It also considers a $455,000 reduction in grant funding from the provincial government, which previously paid for provincial property taxes.

“There is a significant financial implication in the direct downloads and a lack of transparency in the indirect downloads from the province, which greatly impacts our budget and tax rate,” said Veer. “Some of the direct downloads in this budget, which the City must now fund, include the shortfall in funding three RCMP officers, elimination of the grant that covers the property taxes on some provincially owned buildings, and emergency shelter plan funding. We are also unsure of the budget impacts in light of the newly announced carbon tax and the impact on our citizens.”

Council considered approximately $2 million in corporate cost savings, revenues, and efficiencies to arrive at the 2.9% tax increase.

Some additional budget items include investment in a mass notification system that will enable the City to communicate differently with citizens about emerging issues and situations. City council also approved six new police members, an investment in roads, neighbourhood parks, increased action bus service, transit to new areas in Timberlands and expanded night service.

Councillor Dianne Wyntjes said careful consideration was given to the province’s economy during budget deliberations.

“I don’t think you can go to any community event or coffee shop these days and not hear people talking about the economy and we certainly are living in challenging, economic times,” she said. “There are no quick fixes or easy answers to Canada’s economy and that means we are all in this together from coast, to coast to coast. We do face low oil prices, a struggling economy, a provincial budget deficit and our municipality has felt the impact of downloading from the provincial government.”

Veer agreed.

“When I look at this budget, I believe we are fulfilling our responsibility to move our community forward, as well as being responsive to the new economic normal that we are not moving together through,” she said. “Economists, as we know, do not always agree – but generally economists will agree on the fact that a government’s mandate in a recession is to bring stability. This budget is a methodical, sustainable effort to bring stability and to continue to stabilize our local economy.”