Although Mayor Greg Dionne repeatedly clarified that “it’s not committed,” by the close of two days of discussion, council unanimously backed a $3.93 million tax hike.
With every $260,000 representing an approximate one per cent tax increase, residents face a potential increase of more than 15 per cent.
At the end of Saturday’s meeting, the city’s elected officials considered the increase at 7.6 per cent, representing an almost $2 million jump over last year’s budget.
Council put aside an additional $1.94 million increase to be spent in the city’s asphalt paving program, to be dealt with in a separate base tax increase.
“We have a few options,” Mayor Greg Dionne said of the tax hike. “We can go back and look at some of our items we approved yesterday and today -- our big ticket items -- or we can have a discussion about our base option, which we haven’t had the opportunity to discuss.”
“We made decisions here based on priorities,” Coun Ted Zurakowski said. “We made our decisions. I think, at some point, we need to stay with the decisions that we’ve made and send the rest back to administration and say ‘have a hard look.’”
To bring the increase down to the initial bare bones status quo 3.6 per cent tax increase that council started from would mean dropping about $1 million from the base budget, city finance director Joe Day explained.
Given no direction so far as to what to cut from within the base budget, city manager Robert Cotterill said that, if given arbitrary direction to make cuts, they’d cut capital expenses.
After two years of service review meetings, Cotterill said that he’s “never seen a motion from a councillor of what services they want to get rid of -- and then, can they have the support of (council) to do that?”
The only direction he’s been given so far, and which council has yet to vote on, is Atkinson’s suggestion that the city’s flower program desist.
At a savings of about $40,000, Cotterill said that the savings would be a “pittance.”
With that, the discussion shifted to how council would sell the $3.93 million tax hike to the public.
“Politicians love to be loved,” Cody told council.
City administration’s release of a 3.6 per cent tax increase makes city council look bad, he said, in that members of the public will see the new increase and think that administration did a better job with the budget.
City council can drop the tax rate percentage increase by upping the city’s base tax, he encouraged.
“We can cut that to two per cent and be loved by all again -- and, if you increase the base tax … you can get the four million,” he said.
Later pulling numbers from his own residential unit into the picture, Coun. Rick Orr said that his increase using this formula would be 9.4 per cent.
“So, the net to the family is still what we’re talking about,” he said. “We’re just shifting it.”
So that council has a few options to consider, administration will prepare a report on the implications of placing the full $3.98 million tax increase on a base tax, a two per cent increase on the mill rate with the balance on a base tax, and killing the base tax and going 100 per cent to a mill rate.
These “implications” will include scenario homes on the low and high ends of the financial scales.
Currently, the city has a base tax of $87, including $27 for the Pineview Terrace Lodge and $60 for the future infrastructure reserve.
In order to shift this year’s proposed $3.93 million tax increase fully onto a base tax, with a tax increase of zero on the mill rate, every property owner would face a base tax of about $260.
For the two per cent mill rate increase option, the base tax would change to $235.
Another selling tool for this year’s proposed tax increase might also be the city’s advertising of the fact that both the Alfred Jenkins Field House levy and Pineview Terrace Lodge levy will end in the next couple years, Cody said, adding that for him, this will come at a total tax cut of $134.
Before a final budget and tax implementation bylaw is bought to a formal council meeting, their many options will be considered, along with some suggested cuts from with the base budget, or, potentially, from items council approved on Friday and Saturday.
With this year’s $3.93 million proposed increase tentative until formal approval, anything’s on the cutting block -- minus the city’s many legal or contractual agreements.
“Get rid of the flowers -- I’m suggesting that, a motion -- stop the flowers,” Atkinson said at the end of Saturday’s meeting.
“I hate those flowers.”
We made decisions here based on priorities,” Coun Ted Zurakowski said. “We made our decisions. I think, at some point, we need to stay with the decisions that we’ve made and send the rest back to administration and say ‘have a hard look.’ - Coun. Ted Zurakowski
Larger items to pass:
Over two days of budget deliberations, many big-ticket items tentatively passed. Although occasionally with a split vote, the city’s elected officials unanimously passed the $3.93 million total expenditure by the end of Saturday.
The following are some of the many items with broader significance to the city. Any one can be pulled out at a later date, although at the close of Saturday’s budget committee meeting, the city’s elected officials didn’t express interest in doing so.
• Roadways recapping will see a $1.94 million cost jump, bringing the annual expenditure up to the $4 million consultants determined is the funding level that will allow city streets to stop deteriorating, overall. With this expenditure alone about doubling this year’s tax increase from 7.6 per cent to more than 15 per cent, the city’s elected officials are looking at working this into the base tax.
• The Diefenbaker House Museum’s foundation stabilization will see $55,000 in funding this year. That is, if the city’s elected officials don’t pull this funding for other efforts later on, as they’ve done over the past couple years.
• Urban forestry staff will see an increase of three new permanent labourers in order to deal with the city’s aging canopy of trees. The employees’ $189,900 price tag includes use of the required equipment.
• The Sixth Avenue viaduct will be rehabilitated, though the city’s elected officials have yet to come up with a funding source or a decision on what the rehabilitation will look like. Tentatively, this project comes with a price tag of $275,000.
• Crescent Acres will see a $332,000 park built. This will be paid for with $317,000 out of the parks reserve, and $15,000 through the TD Bank Tree Canada Grant program.
• Fire station drawings will come at a cost of $100,000, although their true cost has been projected at $193,000. Paring down the cost to what can realistically be done this year, this expense is the next step toward a fire department substation at the city’s southeast corner.
• Central Avenue viaduct concrete patching will receive a $680,000 injection from the city’s future infrastructure reserve. Built in 1938, the structure has seen better days. The last major repairs took place in 1992, and last year’s work was deferred until this year, bringing this project’s total budget to $820,000.
Various building renovations and preventative maintenance efforts were also approved, although some buildings whose future is up in the air had their corresponding request denied.
A couple of the most commonly mentioned buildings/areas that face possible city divestment of include the old city yards and the Margo Fournier Centre.
While council approved a lot of items, they also denied many funding requests.
The online streaming and video archiving of city council meetings will desist due to council voting against this $8,700 expense.
The Prince Albert Downtown Improvement District Association saw its $47,000 grant increase unanimously denied by council. Although justified as a means of accounting for losses in revenue from outside sources, council found some frustration with the fact that about half of the increase was due to service increases. Mayor Greg Dionne had told outside agencies that this would be a status quo year when it comes to funding.
Additional staffing at the Prince Albert Fire Department to the tune of two additional staff to even out their four platoons was denied at a cost of $130,000. Currently, two platoons have 11 members and two have 12.
Many other items, including various building repair and maintenance requests, were deferred until next year.
The city’s elected officials are expected to pass and implement a final budget within the next month, during which any decision can change. These decisions include those made by past councils, and by the city’s new group of elected officials on Friday and Saturday.