Castanet: December 10, 2020
Coun. Mohini Singh called it a 'no frills budget," while Mayor Colin Basran called it fiscally prudent, one he will have no problem defending to taxpayers.
Following a lengthy review, council settled on a provisional budget which includes a 4.04 per cent tax increase.
That's down slightly from the proposed increase of 4.27 per cent.
But, without assistance from the provincial government, Coun. Luke Stack says city taxpayers would have been looking at a very different scenario.
"What really saved our bacon is the Safe Restart program that came in at $7.88 million," said Stack.
"If we did not have those funds coming in to the city, we would be in a very tough situation.
"Just imagine if we had to reduce our services by $7 million, or raise taxes to cover that additional $7 million, we would be looking at a very frightening scenario, so hats off to our provincial partners."
Council made only two changes to the financial document staff presented. After much deliberation, council agreed to fund a newly created Champion of the Environment staff position and a building master plan from reserves rather than taxation.
Both items were debated a couple of times before city manager Doug Gilchrist suggested reserves could be used for the initiatives staff felt were very important going forward.
In defending the building master plan, deputy city manager Joe Creron said it was one of the most important items in the budget document. He says the city has more than 127 buildings that are getting old and need the city's attention.
After additional deliberation, council also agreed to fully fund the final two phases of city hall renovations, which included $526,000 funded by the taxpayers.
Staff indicated commercial construction prices are low right now and, by doing both projects together, estimate an overall savings of 25 to 30 per cent.
An additional $100,000 for the Journey Home Society will remain a Priority 2 item, however, council may agree to fund it before final budget once they hear further rational from the society in the new year.
Council was sympathetic to the society after learning they will likely not ever quality for charitable status, which closes the door on several other funding and grant opportunities.
The 4.04 per cent increase means the owner of an average $691,000 home will pay an additional $85 in municipal taxes in 2021.
"We utilized our rainy day fund for the 2020 budget," said Basran.
"It would have been nice to utilize reserves for more, but we don't have that ability, so as a result of that, I think we passed a very responsible budget for a community that still continues to grow.
"And, where people still demand exceptional service, and in an organization where the services we provide are essential."
Basran also reminded taxpayers that, unlike senior levels of government, municipalities are not permitted to run a deficit.
The budget did include the additional of eight new RCMP officers as well as three staff positions. The eight officers, who likely won't arrive until later next year, bring to 19 approved by council since the release of the Griffiths Report a year ago.
That report suggested the city hire as many as 56 new officers by 2025 in order to catch up to staffing demands.
The budget could still change slightly between now and final budget in May.