City budget includes 6.6 per cent tax increase for 2021 [Updated]

City of Prince Albert -- Herald file photo.

Prince Albert residents face a property tax hike of 6.6 per cent next year, according to the proposed 2021 municipal budget released on Wednesday.

The City needs an increase of more than $2.1-million in property tax revenue to cover the current level of spending. The City will not run a deficit thanks to provincial and federal funding increases.

Mayor Greg Dionne said the 6.6 per cent increase will likely decrease as city council cuts spending commitments during budget debates in January. Ideally, he’d like to drop it below three per cent.

“We’ve been around that two or 2.8 (per cent increase) and that is our goal again,” Dionne said during an interview on Thursday. “There are lots of items that I’ve already looked at that we can defer until next year—things that have to be repaired but they can last one more year. We’ll go through that process line by line and try to pare the budget down.”

Dionne said a number of fleet purchases will likely get cut. One of the biggest is a request to purchase a new street sweeper, which could cost around $350,000. Dionne said they may lease replacement equipment in 2021, then buy it in 2022.

“Is there a cheaper way? Can we hire somebody? Can we lease it? We want to look at all options,” Dionne said.

City manager Jim Toye said they still have ambitious plans for 2021, despite the recent COVID spike.

The budget includes $4.235-million for the City’s paving program, $800,000 for a proposed Rotary Club Adventure Park at Little Red, and $554,000 for an outdoor fitness park at the Alfred Jenkins.

“The proposed budget will allow us to continue investing in Prince Albert, to not just maintain, but improve our roads, facilities and playgrounds,” Toye said in a media release.

The City of Prince Albert will enter the New Year with a surplus thanks to federal and provincial intervention. That money will go towards covering losses and expenses caused by the COVID-19 shutdown. However, the City still faces a number of financial challenges, which accounts for the proposed 6.6 per cent tax increase.

Financial director Cheryl Tkachuk said lower interest rates, increased insurance costs, new police initiatives, and plans to put more money into reserves are among several things driving the tax increase. The 2021 budget also includes interest expenses for the new arena and aquatic centre.

“It’s a little bit of everything, I would say,” Tkachuk said on Thursday.

The 2021 budget assumes the City will operate as normal. Tkachuk said that will make it easier to estimate the financial impact of COVID-19.

The financial department expects the pandemic to cost Prince Albert around $2.1-million in lost revenue and uncollected fees in 2021. Some financial impacts, like those to the City’s utility, sanitation and land funds, have yet to be determined.

Regardless of what happens during budget deliberations, Tkachuk said she expects to revisit budget commitments every couple of months as provincial policy changes.

“We don’t know if they’re going to shut down more services, of if they’re going to open up more services,” she said. “That will really be determinant when we start going through the year.”

General Fund budget debates will begin on Wednesday, Jan. 6 at 9:30 a.m. in City Hall. Sanitation, Utility, Airport and Land Fund budget debates begin on Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 4 p.m. Public presentations will not be allowed at any budget meeting.

Prince Albert’s tax rate rises by 1 per cent for every $320,000 increase in budget expenses.