The Committee of the Whole voted to move forward with a core operating budget increase of two per cent and a capital spending budget increase of one per cent at last week’s budget meetings.
City staff were requesting a three per cent core operating budget increase and a two per cent capital spending increase, however, some councillors expressed concerns with how they could sell a five per cent property tax increase to the public when this would cover no new services and inflation remains near the two per cent mark.
“I think from a governance perspective we shouldn’t be asking for more than two per cent on core and I would like to challenge our managers to be creative and not cut services and make that work,” said Steven Cross, councillor.
The staff’s three per cent ask could be broken down into a 1.9 per cent budget increase and a 1.1 per cent increase to reserve contributions that covered both the two per cent annual increase to reserves that was implemented last year as well as a 0.5 per cent increase to the Transportation Infrastructure Reserve that is used to operate and replace the city’s equipment.
Tania McCabe, director of finance for the city, said that the reserve increases are meant to decrease the city’s need to borrow so that the borrowing capacity can be used for “good debt” projects, such as matching government grants.
“Allowing room in our ability to borrow for those kind of opportunities is wise which means then that we should try to avoid borrowing for other things like road rehabilitation or replacing equipment,” she said. “That is what this budget is looking at, is not borrowing for those kind of things but saving our borrowing capacity so that when the opportunities arise we actually can borrow to fund them.”
However, council voted to increase the core operating budget by only two per cent, allowing McCabe and city staff to decide how they will be making that work. Councillors Cross, Rob Elliott, Cody Younker and Jackie Rhind voted in favour with Mayor Gary Sulz, Michael Brooks-Hill and Nicole Cherlet opposed.
McCabe said she would likely be decreasing the contributions to reserves to make up for the shortfall.
At the following budget meeting staff outlined the capital projects plan and asked for a two per cent tax increase in order to build up the General Capital Reserve as well as the Transportation Infrastructure Reserve.
The General Capital Reserve funds everything from sport field rehabilitation to street light upgrades and the Transportation Infrastructure Reserve funds everything from traffic light inspections to bridge maintenance and renewal.
McCabe said that if the taxes weren’t increased city managers would have to sit down and choose which projects to defer.
Costly projects coming down the line include paving and road maintenance, stormwater rehabilitation and renewal, upgrades at Williamson Lake, boiler replacement at the museum and many many other ongoing and one time cost projects that maintain the city’s current infrastructure.
However city council voted to bring before council only a one percent increase, to be divided as city staff see fit, with Cross, Brooks-Hill, Rhind and Elliott in favour and Sulz and Cherlet opposed. Younker was not in attendance.
At the next budget meeting city council will be looking at the “asks” from the city departments that would increase service levels provided by the city. With each approved ask, property taxes would increase.
These asks include a communications and engagement officer, a manager of development services, another general duty RCMP constable and an increased contribution to the golf course, among other things totaling six per cent in additional taxes.