At a special council meeting to deal with the city’s revenue drop of up to $1.3 million per month due to the COVID-19 pandemic, council reduced the tax levy increase from 3.44 per cent to 1.75 per cent.
However, a couple of city councillors felt the cuts weren’t enough and wanted to hold the line on any tax increase.
“I think it’s important for us to look at a lesser number,” said Coun. Kyle Sampson. “It’s our responsibility for us to pull up our pants and find our way through this. Now is the time to find efficiencies. If we can do that and still maintain good levels of service for our residents, then so be it.”
Coun. Brian Skakun also voted against 1.75 per cent tax increase, saying his goal was to come in with a zero per cent increase.
“We were given options last night to vote on eliminating close up to 40 full time jobs with no indication at all where the job cuts could come from and what the service levels would look like,” Skakun said in a Facebook post after the meeting. “That would have brought the tax increase to zero per cent. I could not simply vote on a proposal like that. I need the accurate information on the service level reductions and to also get some public feedback.”
However, all other seven members of council voted to move the increase to 1.75 per cent.
To do that, the city will defer nearly $25 million in capital projects. It will pay off the loans used last year to pay for the sinkhole on Winnipeg Street and the Willow Cale Road Bridge replacement using reserves.
The the cost of living increase for the mayor and members of council will be cancelled, effective May 1. A 1.75 per cent wage increase for senior staff has also been cancelled.
The city will also eliminate the 10 per cent penalty on late sewer, water, and solid waste utility payments for the period of July 1 to December 31, 2020.
Council also received two reports from Administration:
The first regarding the closure of the Four Seasons Leisure Pool for the remainder of 2020. Council made no commitment to keeping the pool closed pending a future report from staff and any possible future public health orders.
The other report looked at the possible re-allocation of council’s travel and contingency budgets. Approximately $135,000 remains unspent in these funds and will be allocated towards offsetting the city’s revenue losses.
In a report to council, city manager Kathleen Soltis said a deeper reduction in property taxes would means more layoffs.
“As of April 27th, 98 staff were no longer scheduled for work in their own positions; of the 98, 18 employees had been reassigned to other jobs,” she said in the report. “At this time, there are also 40 vacant positions that are not being filled.”