‘Meat and potatoes’ budget proposal foresees two per cent tax increase

Prince Albert City Hall. Herald File Photo

City administration has revealed its proposed 2018 budget, recommending a two per cent tax hike to fill gaps left by provincial cuts and inflation.

Under the proposal, the city would require $70.3 million in revenue. That’s up $2.4 million from this year’s budget. Administration is recommending a two per cent property tax increase to help make up the difference.

Finance director Steve Brown said it was difficult to stay under the two per cent benchmark set by council, especially after transfer payments were slashed in last year’s provincial budget. Collective bargaining agreements will also help drive up salaries, wages and benefits.

“You can read between the lines there,” Brown said. “You’ve got inflation from collective agreements that are pushing it up one percentage point. It’s very difficult to keep costs within two per cent.”

Administration is recommending $857,000 in cuts. After accounting for reserves and capital expenses, the city would run a balanced budget. The proposal does not include any addition to long-term debt.

The proposed budget will now go through public consultations before coming before council on November 17. Brown said it will be up to councillors to make “the hard decisions.”

“There’s going to be some difficult decisions on the horizon, there’s no doubt about it,” he said, “because they want to keep the taxes as low as possible and I don’t blame them.”

Mayor Greg Dionne said he’s pleased the city administration met the two per cent target. In past years, he pointed out, they sometimes proposed tax increases of six or seven per cent. A trimmer proposal makes council’s job easier, he suggested.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s going to move the city forward,” he said. “So were not hindering the progress of the city and we’re keeping our tax rate down.

“This gives council a really solid opportunity to focus on the budget. We don’t have to look at the frills, because all that’s left is meat and potatoes. We just have to decide where our priorities are.”

The mayor said he’s pleased to see millions for capital projects in the administration’s plan. That includes $4.1 million for the road recapping program, $300,000 for sidewalk rehabilitation and $320,000 for the Art Hauser Centre parking lot.

But the mayor said a $500,000 request to bring the interior of the Art Hauser Centre up to WHL standards is likely to get deferred. New flooring, lighting, rink boards and glass are not funded in the proposal’s capital section.

Dionne said he expects a lot of tinkering before the budget is finalized. He said he thinks council needs to take a close look at staffing, and consider keeping some positions unfilled.

That’s already a reality administration is facing. Much of the pain they’re proposing will be felt within their own ranks. Planning and development services would see its budget slashed by about $145,000, while financial services stands to lose about $615,000.

Other areas will see a funding boost. More than $400,000 is earmarked for new fleet expenses from buses. Police Services, one of the biggest spending items in the budget, would see its funding increase by about $520,000.

Transfers to external agencies would stay flat under the administration’s plan. The SPCA, the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library, the historical society and the Mann Art Gallery will see little or no new funding.

For more on this story, including comment from councillors, see the November 1 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.