Following 46 hours of debate over nine days, Red Deer city council has passed the 2017 Operating Budget.
Red Deerians are now faced with a recommended property tax hike this year of 1.52 per cent, down from 2.51 at the start of debate on January 10. Of that, 0.43 per cent is for increased operating costs, 0.79 per cent for capital savings, and 0.30 per cent for the provincial carbon levy and balancing pool costs for electricity.
For the average home that is assessed at $325,000 for the 2017 tax year, this equates to an increase of approximately $30.96 for 2017.
Friday’s final debate session dealt with the City's annual contribution to capital savings, originally pegged at $1,279,000. Council ultimately voted 6-2 in favour of cutting it to $1 million to help lower the tax hike, with Paul Harris and Lynne Mulder voting against the reduced amount.
Mulder says cutting 30 cents off the monthly tax bill isn’t worth putting less into savings.
“We're sacrificing down the road a cumulative capital of more than $2.5 million. So it was hard for me in my heart to say 'how does 30 cents a month weigh off against that loss in capital?' I don't know, it'll be interesting to hear from our public,” Mulder said.
Going forward, future city councils will need to address the cut by increasing the capital contribution in future years, cutting projects, or by finding dollars elsewhere to fund capital projects.
Prior to making their closing statements, council approved a number of remaining motions with no further impact on the property tax increase.
Council voted unanimously to name the Red Deer Royals Marching Band as official City of Red Deer Ambassadors. The move comes after the City gave $250,000 last year for their new fieldhouse.
Council also approved $109,000 in bridge funding to prevent Volunteer Central from closing its doors at the end of April. The organization, which supports the needs of 106 local non-profit groups, relies on annual funding from the E-Cap grant from Alberta Culture and Tourism, and it's yet to be made clear whether they'll receive those funds in 2017. If the E-Cap grant does come through, the City's contribution would be reduced proportionally.
Changes to speed limits near schools were approved at a cost of $120,000. Beginning August 1, there will be 87 playground zones in effect from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m on all days. One school zone will remain in place on 39 Street at Eastview Middle School, Maryview School and St. Thomas Aquinas Middle School from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on school days. Both city school divisions supported the changes.
Mayor Tara Veer said council debated budget passionately, vigorously and with respect.
"It truly is a group effort to get where we've landed. We'd like to thank our citizens as well for the engagement throughout the year, for the letters, the calls and the emails, and to also thank our community in terms of this budget giving direction to our organization, and delivering service to our community," she said.
Veer repeated her stance that this budget, her 13th on council, was like no other as the City and its residents deal with an economic reality like none in recent history.
"I'm very proud of the fact we chose to freeze transit fees, we chose to freeze recreation fees, we chose to freeze our salaries and the City Manager's. I'm proud we deliberated on utilities and that we tried to maintain financial accessibility for our community as a whole.”
Veer added, "I'm also very proud of the fact we haven't compromised on our future and that we're still moving our community forward, but endeavoured to move our community forward with us, and we've been mindful of the eight per cent of people in our community who are unemployed."
"If anyone has any doubt whether this city council has earned their keep, I invite them to sit in on our discussions like Operating and Capital budgets,” Councillor Lawrence Lee added. “The people around this table work extremely hard for the citizens of Red Deer," said Councillor Lawrence Lee. "And that comes from recommendations from our staff and City Manager. I hope people can really appreciate this, those [recommendations] haven't just happened over the last two weeks. For the next budget, it starts tomorrow."
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