City council is underway with deliberations for the 2019 Operating Budget, which is being described as the toughest budget in over a decade.
In fact, City Manager Craig Curtis said this budget was the toughest he’s worked on since the 1980s.
Council is considering a proposed $370 million Operating Budget that includes a $3.33 million increase in spending over last year, resulting in a 2.5% property tax increase (including the annual one per cent capital amenity contribution). As such, a home valued at $325,000 would see an increase of $54 to the municipal portion of their property tax bill.
About $2.6 million of the additional spending is proposed for community safety – identified as the public’s top priority.
Council is tasked with keeping this year’s tax hike as low as possible while dealing with a cash crunch.
Anticipated tax revenue from new growth is projected at $1.1 million, which is $1.5 million lower than a “good growth year,” according to City staff.
Also causing revenue concerns is the fact that the province’s Municipal Sustainability Initiative, a major source of funding, is ending in 2019 with indications pointing toward a reduction in funding from the province moving forward.
Ahead of budget deliberations, council received submissions from several residents and organizations offering their feedback.
One resident e-mailed council to say increasing taxes by 2.5 per cent during a time when Albertans are weathering a recession does not seem reasonable.
“The impression some of us taxpayers get is that there is a lack of concern about the recession,” he wrote. “I have a sense that the City, ‘just doesn’t get it.’”
Another resident wrote seeking financial support for the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra. The RDSO said last September “We’re dying” after council defeated a request for $125,000 in annual operating funding.
The Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance (CAPRA) is encouraging council to reconsider a proposed three per cent increase in parks and recreation fees to help keep them affordable for the 1-in-10 Red Deerians living in poverty.
CAPRA also wants The City to explore more regional transit opportunities with communities such as Sylvan Lake, explore measures to offset tax increases on low-income households, and ensure all City employees receive a living wage to afford them a dignified standard of living.
Volunteer Central, which supports 80 local volunteer-based organizations each year and has dealt with funding shortfalls in recent years, is seeking $120,000 in order to keep its doors open.
The Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce is urging city council to “exercise the utmost fiscal restraint” during budget deliberations and aim for a zero per cent tax increase.
“On its own a ‘modest’ increase to property taxes may seem trivial. But combined with the array of other cost increases levied upon business, a tax increase can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back,” wrote Interim CEO Rick More.
The Chamber would like the City to explore contracting out more services to reduce the staff and equipment it manages and to seek improvements to the cost, efficiency and timing of development permitting and licensing processes and approvals.
Budget deliberations started Tuesday and are scheduled to run as long as Jan. 18.
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