City of Saskatoon 2019 budget talks start Monday
Posted on November 23, 2018 in Business, In the Media
Saskatoon city council starts the debate on finalizing the 2019 budget with a preliminary 4.5 per cent property tax increase on Monday afternoon.
Here are some of the highlights:
The preliminary 2019 property tax increase of 4.5 per cent might seem high for a budget without any new bold initiatives. This budget is mostly aimed at retaining current levels of service.
Property tax hikes have averaged just above five per cent in the last five years. City council voted to change the original property tax increase in the last two years. In 2017, council increased the tax hike in response to an unexpected move by the province to slash revenues. Then, earlier this year, council opted to lower the property tax increase after the province restored some of that revenue.
The North Saskatoon Business Association (NSBA) has written to the city, calling the trend for property tax hikes to outpace economic growth “worrisome.” The NSBA urges city hall to find more savings.
ON THE TABLE
Council seems certain to lower the property tax increase, as is almost always the case. This year’s budget process means a lot of decisions were made at a meeting this summer. There’s still some room to manoeuvre, though.
Some of the decisions remaining include whether to accelerate the city’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and whether to delay establishing a fund to meet the city’s future recreation needs. Other measures include a similar fund to battle pests, such as the cottony ash psyllid, which is devastating the city’s black ash trees, and an improved response to graffiti on public infrastructure.
The preliminary budget released in October contained a $500,000 contingency fund. City hall administration is suggesting the contingency be spent to make up for lower than expected assessment growth ($147,000) and less money without a power rate increase ($182,200). It’s also proposed that council dip into the fund for $122,000 to raise the salaries of the mayor and councillors in 2019 to account for the loss of a federal tax exemption for elected officials.
The 2019 budget includes 53.9 new full-time employees. More than half of these — 30.75 positions — will be paid for through the property tax increase. The others are funded by utility revenues, programs that sustain themselves, external funding or will be used to replace overtime.
Ten of the new employees are new police positions in a $105 million police budget that cracks the $100 million mark for the first time.
Depending on the decisions made next week, the number of new employees could rise or fall. The city’s budget document touts the continued reduction in the number of city hall employees for every 1,000 residents. Most of the new employees are related to maintaining service levels in a growing city, the administration says.
After a zero per cent increase last year, the Saskatoon Public Library is seeking a 6.45 per cent property tax hike to fund a $25.8-million budget, an increase of $1.8 million over this year. The big driver of the increase is a $525,000 increase in contributions to a fund for a new central library.
An increase to the library’s budget does not have as great an effect as a similar increase in the city’s budget would, since the library only accounts for six per cent of the total property tax bill. “What it means is that we’re able to advance the priorities we’ve listed in our strategic plan,” director of libraries Carol Cooley said in an interview Thursday.
There’s been talk about replacing the city’s 52-year-old Frances Morrison Library downtown for decades, but a business case is expected in May, Cooley said. She’s open to all possibilities, including a new downtown arena and convention centre that also includes a new library, she said.
In addition to the property tax increase, residents will pay higher user fees for a variety of services, including burying a loved one.
A well-publicized increase in the price of monthly passes for the city’s recreation facilities would boost an adult pass to $50 from $45. Residents will also be hit with a water/waste water rate hike of 9.5 per cent, the last of four straight increases.
A preference for cremation has resulted in lower than expected revenue from the city-run Woodlawn Cemetery this year. The city proposes a 3.5 per cent average increase for cemetery fees in 2019.
Proposed 2019 fee increases would also make it more expensive to golf at the city’s three courses, to rent sports fields with lights (rising to $92 from $62 for two hours) and to license a pet (to $58 from $56 for a dog that has not been spayed or neutered).