Property tax rates set for 2019

From back to front, councillors Terra Lennox-Zepp, Don Cody, Blake Edwards and Ted Zurakowski listen to a speaker during Thursday’s budget deliberations at City Hall. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald.

Prince Albert’s property tax rate increase remained at 3.9 per cent following two days of budget deliberations at City Hall this week.

That number is unchanged from the proposed budget released on Nov. 2, meaning the 2019 rate increase will be double the 1.53 per cent increase levied for 2018.

The decision meant a number of infrastructure projects went unfunded, and the city dipped into its reserves on more than one occasion. City councillors also voted to use $300,000 out of the base tax levy account to help stall further tax increases.

After the meeting, Mayor Greg Dionne said he was pleased with the outcome, and didn’t shy away from the fact that they’d used levy funds to keep tax rates from climbing.

“At the end of the day, if we didn’t use that (account) taxes would have went up another 1.5 per cent, and we would have been over the 5 per cent mark,” Dionne explained. “We don’t think the residents will have an issue with that.”

The decision didn’t go over well with all city councillors. Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp was the most vocal opponent of the deal. She worried the city wasn’t being forthright with voters by taking money from the levy, which is typically used for the Roadways Recapping Program, and using it in other areas. It’s expected that the 2019 paving base tax levy will hold roughly $4.2 million.

“I’d like the public to know that they paid a base tax that was called a Roadways Recapping Program, and there’s now a preliminary $459,000 that we did not spend on a Roadways Recapping Program,” Lennox-Zepp said during Thursday’s debate. “On top of this, we’re suggesting to tax people a base tax levy that they will be entitled reading Roadways Recapping Program and we are now talking about not spending it on these roadways.”

Councillors Evert Botha and Charlene Miller joined Lennox-Zepp in opposing the motion, but it still passed by a 5-3 margin. Dionne said he’s not worried about draining the base tax levy account.

“It has grown to $4.2 million because of all the new commercial businesses and housing that we did, and that’s what happens to that account,” Dionne said. “When you have a base tax, it will naturally grow.”

Police Budget receives tiny increase

The Prince Albert police budget was another victim of tight budget constraints. For the first time in several years, city council did not reject the budget and send it back to the Board of Police Commissioners for another look. However, the final increase remained small: just an extra $236,090, roughly 1.4 per cent more than 2018.

Dionne said the city has trimmed the police budget to its limit. With 88 per cent of the remaining police budget going towards salaries, the only other way to reduce the load is to start cutting staff, something he isn’t interested in doing.

“We heard it loud and clear that the cost of policing is too much, and we did it this year without cutting any positions,” he said. “That’s what people were worried about, that we’d cut positions…. At some point, if the demand is that we have to cut more funding, we’re down to the point that we’re cutting staff and when I go door to door and talk to the taxpayers, they don’t want that to happen.”

For more information on Thursday’s budget deliberations, please see the Saturday edition Daily Herald.