Budget deliberations bring tax increase down to 1.7 per cent

After four days of budget deliberation, city council has endorsed a 1.71 per cent property tax increase.

City administration had proposed a three per cent increase at the beginning of budget talks last Tuesday (Nov. 15).

The 2023 budget is expected to be finalized at the Nov. 28 regular council meeting.

City Mayor Jackie Clayton said three per cent was higher than council wanted to see.

“Any increases we understand are concerning to people during times of high inflation, and the cost of living is extremely high for people; we understand and appreciate what people are going through as grocery bills, gas bills, (and) all their bills increase,” she said.

“A lot of the decisions that were made in this budget discussion were based around the what's the need to have versus a nice to have.”

She said council went in-depth into the budget, asking administration questions and made “tough decisions” to end up at the current rate.

RCMP contract negotiations meant an increase of approximately $1 million in the budget, Clayton said, noting increased utility costs for city-owned facilities were also a factor.

The city says, “over the past five years, inflation has out-paced tax rate changes by over 16 per cent.”

Clayton said citizen engagement studies illustrates roads are a top priority for residents; council approved $20 million in road improvements for 2023.

Resident quality of life was also top of mind in deliberations which led to decisions such as $1.5 million in pedestrian links to create new paths for better connectivity and repair others.

The city committed $75,000 for snow and ice control at transit stops.

New trees are slated for 100 Ave. and the creation of an Urban Forest Strategy at the cost of $240,000.

“This will see improved and increased beautification throughout the city,” said Clayton.

A noted removal from the budget is $500,000 from the playground replacement fund.

“Council is looking to see more information on the needs of playgrounds within communities,” said the mayor.

She noted as children grow up in neighbourhoods, some playgrounds may not need to be updated, but a park where people can play with their kids or dog may be preferred.

Council expects to see more information from administration brought back to council before informed decisions on playground replacements can be made.

“All municipalities are feeling the crunch of inflation and increasing costs and capital projects,” said Clayton.

Council also directed administration to return with a report that will compare residential taxes with other Alberta municipalities.

“We want to be an affordable great place to live. So this report will bring back some great information,” said Clayton.

The mayor noted that citizen engagement studies impacted many decisions on the budget.

“We've enhanced and increased our engagement over the past few years significantly. And we take that information very seriously, and I encourage people to get involved in engagement.”

She said engagement sessions would be coming soon on municipal policing.

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News