What kind of an effect would a base tax of $800 have on homeowners in Prince Albert? Mayor Greg Dionne asked his fellow elected officials this week.
Facing concerns after asking the question, Dionne clarified after this week’s council meeting that he doesn’t actually expect council to endorse an $800 base tax, but that it’s nice to get the conversation moving in that direction.
“Before you can make a decision, you have to have all the information and every tool on the table to pick the best way to go,” he explained.
At 21.556, the City of Prince Albert has the second highest mill rate among Saskatchewan cities. Prince Albert also has the second lowest base tax, at $87.
Dionne wants to see these two rates bumped to somewhere in the middle, with the end result a “fair and equitable” revenue neutral tax shift.
The $800 starting rate was selected because that’s the approximate cut that fire and police services take -- services that everyone benefits from equally, Dionne said.
“We can certainly look at it,” Coun. Lee Atkinson said of the base tax, after the meeting.
“I mean, we probably look at it every term. So, basically, what it usually tells us is that higher-priced properties … see a small reduction in their taxes, but what happens on the lower-end properties -- just on an economy of scale -- is, they see an increase in their taxes.”
Base taxes are the same across the board, whereas the financial impacts of mill rates depend on property value.
“It’s a sliding scale,” Atkinson clarified. “The higher the base or flat tax, the more the increase is on lower-valued properties.”
When it comes to the argument that cost of fire and police is about $800 per residence, Coun. Charlene Miller joins Atkinson in asking how money will be gathered from the people from outside the city who police deal with. It’s been estimated that they represent about 40 per cent of the people city police deal with.
This is an ongoing challenge, Dionne said. Having petitioned the province for additional funding for police, he’s been told that the annual municipal operating grant covers such costs.
The grant to the city, built by one penny of the provincial sales tax, is set to go up by about 11 per cent this year, he noted.
“It’s a start,” Dionne said. “Unfortunately, they’re under the same restraints we are -- the ability of people to pay.”
Coun. Don Cody said that he’s happy to see the base tax being discussed, noting, “there’s never too much information.”
However, he said that if the city does decide to bump up its base tax, he wants it to be minimal.
And if a tax shift does take place, he’d prefer to see it happen next year, since this year will already be a difficult one for taxpayers.
“We have reassessment, we have water rates that have gone up, sanitary sewer rates that have gone up,” he began, adding that a mill rate increase is also likely.
Before you can make a decision, you have to have all the information and every tool on the table to pick the best way to go. - Mayor Greg Dionne
“It’s a pretty hard bump,” he concluded.
“You’re pushing more on the backs on probably those who can least afford it,” Atkinson said of the proposed base tax increase, noting that he wasn’t in favour of the current base taxes, either.
In 2011, the city instated a $60 base tax, and in 2012 added another $27 to pay for the new Pineview Terrace Lodge long-term care facility.
“It’s a great way of playing smoke and mirrors with the idea that you’re being fiscally responsible, because the tax increase remains relatively small,” he said.
Miller has also consistently opposed the city’s base tax -- particularly since the initial $60 base tax hasn’t been put toward what it was supposed to be.
Of the $1.24 million the base tax raises every year, half goes to the city’s general fund, which Miller refers to as the “slush fund.”
“It was meant to deal with our infrastructure,” she said -- an argument she’s also raised during a number of city council meetings.
Only a few months into their first terms on city council, Mark Tweidt and Rick Orr said that they’re happy to see the base tax discussed, but that they’re going to see what city administration reports and public feedback have to share over the next few weeks before taking a firm stance on this issue.
Over the past couple months, the city’s elected officials have successfully motioned for administration to supply council with several reports before they undertake final budget discussions, including the effect of an $800 base tax, the effect of this year’s property value reassessments and other things.
A committee is also being considered to look into the possibility of different user fees for people using city facilities who do not live in the city.
“At the end of the day, people don’t want to pay more taxes,” Dionne said, adding that the public is less likely to be upset about a tax increase if city council has demonstrated that they’ve done due diligence in cutting costs wherever possible.
Deep into budget discussions, city council will join administration during two days of service review presentations on March 7 and 8.
These meetings, open to the public, will take place in council chambers at City Hall from 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on March 7, and from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 8.
The public will be invited to speak at a public budget consultation event on Monday, March 11, beginning at 7 p.m., with those intending to speak required to submit a written request and speaking notes to the city clerk’s office before March 5.
The general fund capital and operating budget review will cap off discussions over two days beginning on Friday, March 15, at 9 a.m. During past years, city council has only needed the first day.