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City budget hurts the pocketbook

A couple of things should be mentioned when talking about the city’s 2019 budget that will dip into the taxpayers’ pocketbooks by another 4.3 per cent.

Firstly, when the financial statements came before the city’s finance and audit committee in December, staff was proposing a 5.03 per cent tax increase for ratepayers. Council told city staff to come back with some other options … namely a three per cent and a four per cent increase scenario. Not sure what happened to the three per cent increase scenario, but it was the four per cent one that came before council. The point is, there was some trimming done. Was it enough? Depends who you talk to.

Secondly, Employer Health Tax, a $1 million hit to the city coffers, truly is out of the city’s control. The province, which dismissed the impact of the tax on municipalities as being easily absorbed in city budgets, is unsympathetic to municipalities across the province who have been negatively impacted.

The city simply has to pay the tax.

Fair enough. However, what I find distressing with how the city tackled the provincially-mandated one per cent increase to operating costs was the mindset of “there’s nothing we can do, so we have to pay it.”

There didn’t seem to be much of a mindset of “gee, we have an extra million cost that we can’t avoid, where can we cut or what can we put off to avoid a tax hit for the citizens?”

Give council credit, they tried to trim some costs but staff was definitely prepared to defend their 4.3 per cent increase.

Coun. Brian Skakun raised the issue of putting off an expansion of the mausoleum, a $1.4 million expenditure which would have brought the tax increase down to about three per cent. Director of finance Kris Dalio explained that due to the lengthy process to get funding through the Municipal Finance Authority, the city wouldn’t, in real dollars, start paying the loan back until next year so pulling it out of this year’s budget wouldn’t actually reduce the amount of money the city spent this year.

Heads nodded around the table as the inference was it wouldn’t make a difference. In accounting terms, Dalio is correct. However, no one seemed to notice or point out that even though it might not have a financial hit on city coffers until 2020, it has a real hit on the taxpayers this year. Isn’t that the whole idea of budget discussions?

It was probably a moot point as Coun. Murry Krause and Coun. Susan Scott let Skakun know he would have a fight on his hands if he tried to remove the mausoleum renos from the budget.

Then there is the $2.7 million expenditure over the next two years to refurbish Masich Place Stadium. This is over and above the $4.5 million in upgrades that were completed last year.

Coun. Kyle Sampson, oh the rookie, asked whether there were any “luxuries” in the extra $2.7 million being poured into Masich Place Stadium.

Engineering and public works director Gina Layte Liston said the $4.5 million dealt with major components for the stadium which has turned the facility into “premium venue.” In other words, “we don’t do anything on the cheap.”

The $2.7 million will go, in part, towards upgrading field lighting, the score clock, pathways, benches, and a fibre optic connection. No luxuries there.

The fibre optic connection is interesting. It is a requirement for the UNBC to livestream UNBC Timberwolves soccer games. Fair enough. But earlier in the budget discussions when discussing a $578,000 item to bring the boards at CN Centre up to snuff for the WHL, council, after a motion from Sampson, decided to see if the Cougars will cost-share the new boards. Great idea.

However, when the fibre-optics for Masich Place Stadium to accommodate the Timberwolves came up, the thought of approaching UNBC to see if it would cost-share the item crossed no one’s mind.

The other big item, of course, was increasing the snow removal budget by $1.5 million to bring it closer in line with what is actually spent. That, at least, is reasonable. Coun. Brian Skakun, however, raised the spectre of taking a look whether the city can trim some of its snow removal costs.

However, “there hasn’t been much of an appetite to take that on,” says Skakun.

So, the end result is the taxpayers get hit again.




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