Your Property Taxes Are Going Up. Big Time.
“Yes it is challenging times but we were elected to make difficult decisions in difficult times,” Moose Jaw’s Mayor, Frasier Tolmie, said during the media scrum following Council’s Budget Committee’s decision to increase property taxes in 2018 by 5.01 per cent.
Council initially faced a tax increase of 4.05 percent but with additional departmental initiatives during the budget process the tax rate increased almost an additional one percent. The 5.01 percent tax increase will raise $1,348,138 for the City.
When introduced to Council, the budget – without the departmental initiatives - was described as a status quo budget.
Additionally water rates are set to go up 15 percent and the sanitary sewer six percent to help pay for infrastructure upgrades.
Solid waste (garbage) collection fees are set to go up from $6.57 to $7.25 monthly. A one time increase of $70,000 to grind up, ship and recycle broken residential solid waste collection bins and $10,000 annually to recycle future broken bins.
The additional oneper cent of taxes (or $270,000) will largely go to pay for new staff to assist with the infrastructure renewal. Staff which include an additional city planner at $70,000, $60,000 for a Geographical Information System (GIS) technician and $95,000 for a project manager.
Recreational facility fees will be increasing by two percent, except for annual passes to the Kinsmen Sportsplex which will see no increase.
Throughout the budget process, cutbacks from the Province were often mentioned, at Council’s Budget Committee, as a major factor for the City’s difficult financial position. The City’s share of revenue sharing – based on one percent of PST collected - has decreased due to funds being distributed on a per capita basis and Moose Jaw’s population did not increase as much, percentage-wise, as other centres, an overall reduction to PST due to decreased economic activity and the reduction of grants in lieu from SaskPower and SaskEnergy. It's part of the Province’s austerity cutbacks to balance the provincial budget in three years when commodity prices dropped.
Mayor Tolmie spoke about Moose Jaw making headway despite some very tough challenges. “We have seen some really good, important initiatives from last year’s budget, bearing some good fruit,” he stated.
Mayor Tolmie reiterated the tough challenges faced in 2017’s budget and how after Council had worked hard to get down a major tax increase, the City got an unexpected major financial hit by the Province.
Provincial reductions effect upon City finances is 16 percent.
Asked by CTV News if the 15 percent water rate increase was a necessary evil, the Mayor replied, it was “to ensure we get water to our citizens.”
Asked by MJ Independent what he thought about the Engineering Department’s preventative maintenance initiative. The initiative increased maintenance by 35 percent at zero dollar increase to taxpayers the Mayor said he was impressed by the effort.
“They never got as far as they wanted to go (with preventive maintenance)…they met with challenges and faced them head on,” the Mayor stated.
Asked a supplemental question by MJ Independent about what the preventative maintenance program showed, Mayor Tolmie stated it helped him understand the challenges.
“It showed the shocking state of our water lines,” the Mayor replied stating it showed why infrastructure was a top priority.
Asked a final question by MJ Independent about what he as Mayor thought people would think of the increases the Mayor replied they wouldn't be happy.“No one is happy (with increases) but we heard before the election people wanted infrastructure fixed,” Mayor Tolmie replied.
During earlier budget discussions, Councillor Dawn Luhning questioned the entire budget focus, stating serious consideration needed to be made towards cuts and not simply tax and fee increases.
“We have been in an infrastructure crisis for 15 years and it's been ignored,” Coun Luhning stated, adding “if anybody believes there is no waste in their budgets they're wrong.”
“I don't know how much more we can take…I don't know who can afford these increases when there is no increases in wages and pensions to cover it,” she stated, later adding “we need to take a better and sharper look at ourselves.”
Coun Luhning later went on to state that departments needed to make cuts on shared basis instead of just tax and fee increases.
Councillor Brian Swanson stated his call for many years to focus on core infrastructure.
“We are still trying to be a little bit of everything for everybody we need to narrow the focus,” Coun Swanson stated, later adding “Nothing is sacred to me (regarding cuts) except we have to fund core infrastructure upgrades.”
Councillor Chris Warren, who just completed second budget on Council, told MJ Independent this budget was “more painful” to do because “I’m really understanding the issues and the level of service residents are expecting.”
Coun Warren pointed to the City spending 50 percent more on infrastructure since 2013, to indicate something is being done by the City to address citizen’s concerns.
Despite the call for cuts the majority of the Budget Committee approved the budget.
The budget now goes to Council where changes, additions or deletions, can be made up until the time Council gives final approval.