City council wraps up operational budget talks with a 2.15% municipal tax hike

Budget talks completed after eight days of deliberations

City council landed on a 2.15 per cent tax hike in the municipal portion of the property tax bill after operational budget talks wrapped up Wednesday.

The increase is made up of 1.15 per cent for operating costs, and 1.0 per cent for capital investment for amenities and growth.

That equates to an increase to the average local home of $47.44 this year or $3.95 per month.

The 2019 municipal tax rates will be set later this Spring.

That municipal tax rate will then be combined with the provincial education tax rate and the requisition for the Piper Creek Foundation to help determine how much property tax residents will pay.

An assessed property value is multiplied by the property tax rates to determine a property owner’s tax bill that is mailed in May.

Meanwhile, council had started out deliberations last week with a recommended increase of 2.50 per cent considering the wide range of funding requests that had to be considered.

“I think really what council was challenged to accomplish was to show responsiveness and respect to the continuing state of the provincial and local economies,” said Mayor Tara Veer.

“This is a budget like no other – we heard that as a very strong theme recognizing that the recession ensues. Normally when we’ve had recessionary years, we’ve seen recovery after two years and that is no longer the case this year,” she said, adding that council ultimately didn’t compromise on services to local residents.

“There are some areas of focus of priority, community safety being the number one concern of Red Deerians,” she said. “Also, it’s trying to look at the budget in a way that we are still fulfilling our commitment to Red Deerians in other areas of service without compromising on the identified needs of our citizens,” she said.

“We may not always agree on what or how, but we can always agree on our commitment to our community.”

Coun. Ken Johnston said he was very proud of his administrative colleagues and the work they did to present this budget to council.

“A lot of us didn’t get everything we wanted, some of us got some of what we wanted and some of us got none of what we wanted, and at the end of the day, our hearts are beating strongly for the good of our City,” he said.

Coun. Lawrence Lee said council is the voice that is, “Responsible for ensuring that the community’s priorities are vetted accordingly and respectively through that government lens.”

He also encouraged the public to continue to offer feedback and dialogue to the process as a whole as the City moves forward.

Ultimately, council approved about $3.5 million in corporate cost savings, revenues, and efficiencies to arrive at the 2.15 per cent tax hike.

These savings include a reduction in Sunday and holiday transit hours and a reduction of hours at the Collicutt Centre and G.H. Dawe Community Centre.

Some key budget items also included covering a provincial funding shortfall for three RCMP officers for $175,000 as well as $730,000 for new RCMP members and municipal support positions.

Also approved was $200,000 for the clean-up of rough sleeper camps.

During their closing comments, councillors also paid tribute to City Manager Craig Curtis, who will be retiring March 3rd.

Johnston said that Curtis has been an exemplary and visionary leader.

“You’ve had an extraordinary ability to be the conduit between administration and council,” he said. “I just wanted to say thank you so much.”

Coun. Vesna Higham said it had been such a privilege to work with Curtis.

“You will be dearly missed. I wish you every happiness and success in whatever adventures await you down the road.”

Veer also said council certainly wanted to thank Curtis for his commitment to the community.

“You’ve had a very distinguished career and we publicly commend and applaud you.”

Curtis said the prospect of retiring after nearly 40 years of municipal service felt bittersweet. He first started working with the City in 1980, then left for Ontario for several years and returned to the City of Red Deer in 2007.

He’s enjoyed the journey and is excited about what lies ahead.

“I always find the budget really interesting,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not all that enjoyable but it’s always interesting because it’s through the budget that you actually do anything. It’s through both the Capital Budget and the Operating Budget that things change.

“Some of the fundamental, transformation changes to the City from the development of Waskasoo Park to the relocation of the Civic Yards to the new development in Capstone, have all been initiated in budgetary and strategic plan direction,” he said.

“It’s been a pleasure to see the City grow, and to see what we are doing and working on for the betterment of the community.”

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