Council starts with a 4.5 per cent mill rate hike

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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City administration have released the preliminary budget for 2014 -- a 4.5 per cent tax increase that the city's elected officials are expected to pare down during a handful of meetings next month. 

Nudging this year’s tax increase lower than the 4.5 per cent mill rate increase city administration has proposed will be the challenge of city council next month.

 

“Our goal in 2014 is to bring it in as low as we can, so one of the things that we’ll be asking the departments is, ‘can you do it next year?’” Mayor Greg Dionne said on Wednesday -- the day that city administration’s proposed budget went online.

“But, at the same time, we still want to move ahead on infrastructure, because we’re finally seeing a difference,” he added, citing positive feedback in response to last year’s decision to almost double the annual asphalt paving program to $4 million.

The 2014 preliminary budget that went onto the city website on Wednesday is “administration’s presentation of what it understands the direction of the city to be at this point in time,” city finance director Joe Day explained.

“This is largely a budget that is identifying what funding is required to keep doing the things that we are doing.”

Although the preliminary budget is largely status quo, it’s greater than the 2.3 per cent consumer price index increase Saskatchewan’s seen since last year’s budget.  

Day said that administration added roughly $1 million to enhance their capital projects budget to address infrastructure shortfalls.

With a massive infrastructure deficit and about $6 million worth of top-tier capital items identified by city administration, finding infrastructure projects to fund was not difficult, Day noted.

Although the total proposed budget is $65.95 million -- a $2.02 million increase from 2013 and a 4.5 per cent mill rate increase -- Day notes that it remains in the hands of the city’s nine elected officials, who are expected to come up with a final budget by mid-March.

“I’m hoping that we presented a document to council and the public that is easy to follow as to what the cost of different services are in the city,” Day summarized.

“Council can make their priorities and approvals on the information it needs, and hopefully we’ve provided that.”

This year’s budget process will be fairly similar to last year’s, Dionne said, noting that there will be one important difference -- council’s receptiveness to making cuts.

Last year’s preliminary budget showed a 3.6 per cent tax increase -- a starting point from which council added more items while making few cuts.

Our goal in 2014 is to bring it in as low as we can, so one of the things that we’ll be asking the departments is, ‘can you do it next year?’ But, at the same time, we still want to move ahead on infrastructure, because we’re finally seeing a difference. Mayor Greg Dionne

In the end, funds were shifted around, resulting in a revenue neutral change to the mill rate and a $189 residential roadways base tax and a higher, varying rate for commercial properties.

If placed onto a mill rate, this new base tax would have equated to a 15 per cent increase.

This time around, the 4.5 per cent increase will not necessarily be bumped even higher, Dionne said.

“They’re putting in the time, and we’re going to do it right, and we’re going to do what’s right for the city,” he said.

A handful of closed-door base budget meetings took place between city administration and city council last year, providing councillors with greater insight into each department -- where cuts might be made and which areas might need greater funding.

“We don’t want people to get excited and think at this point that it’s going up by 4.5 per cent,” Dionne said, noting that city council’s budgetary impact will come out of three meetings schedule for mid-March.

Although other cities around the province are notching greater mill rate increases than 4.5 per cent, Dionne said that much of it has to do with these cities increasing their asphalt paving programs -- something Prince Albert council did last year.

A public consultation meeting has been set for Monday, March 10, beginning at 7 p.m.

During this meeting, members of the public will be encouraged to voice their feedback on the proposed 200-page budget document, which is available online at www.citypa.ca.

Those wishing to provide feedback must sign up no later than Tuesday, March 4, by the end of the business day at the City Clerk’s office at City Hall.

The city’s elected officials will follow the public consultation meeting with two budget deliberations, including meetings from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday March 13, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, March 14.

The Daily Herald will delve deeper into the 2014 preliminary budget documents prior to these meetings, which will be open to the public.

Organizations: Prince Albert council, Daily Herald

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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