Jasper Municipal Council on the brink of Budget season

·3 min read

Jasper Municipal Council is yet to decide on how much tax money they want to collect next year.

In 2020, council was on the cusp of increasing property tax rates by 5.3 per cent before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

That changed things, and councillors eventually voted to collect $7 million from property taxes, even lower than the $7.98 million that would have represented a zero per cent increase.

Now, the administration department is waiting for council to set that number for 2021, called a target municipal tax requisition, so they can go ahead with development of the 2021 budget. Council has discussed the budget process at meetings since Sept. 8.

"That would help administration develop the operating budget toward the target," said Christine Nadon, legislative service manager. "The public budget meetings cannot take place until there's a number."

Coun. Scott Wilson said when it comes to tax requisitions, "We have to look… into the future".

“We had a break last year,” he said. “We can't keep operating at these lower levels.”

He added it's important to put money away for future generations.

Mayor Richard Ireland said, "It's important the public understands what is being discussed," during the process."

About a service delivery increase, for example, Ireland asked, "Does it mean we'll maintain the service delivery level or are we changing it, so some extent?"

Greathead responded for utilities, it's a bit of both. He said aging infrastructure is a consideration and more staff is needed to do required work.

Deputy mayor Rico Damota asked that business licencing be reviewed and pointed out the $165 fee across the board doesn't fulfill the requirement of what's being done.

Coun. Paul Butler agreed and said, "I think we have to do better about the income side of our books."

About budget considerations, coun. Helen Kelleher-Empey reminded council that administration can't get started without direction from them.

“In order for them to get their job done we've got to be fair to them,” she said.

"Set a figure we can work together on, towards reaching," Nadon reiterated.

A decision is scheduled for council's Nov. 3 meeting. The public budget presentations, which are scheduled for Nov. 9 and 10, may not go ahead, depending on what council decides to do at the Nov. 3 meeting.

Questioning housing

A letter from Parks Canada about private home accommodations (PHAs) elicited a number of comments from council about the ongoing lack of affordable housing in Jasper and who should have authority over land use and planning.

Parks asked council to address a number of questions about PHAs, including if they support changes to their requirements and definitions.

Wilson said, "I don't think making changes affects the housing supply. Modifying houses into secondary suites is quite cost-prohibitive."

About what council will commit to in terms of compliance with PHAs business licences, Wilson said it's Parks Canada's responsibility to enforce it.

"They're asking us to be the bad guy here and I just can't get behind that,” he said.

Wilson emphasized the need to have a conversation with Parks Canada in attendance at a meeting instead of handling matters with drawn-out correspondence.

Damota said there needs to be an open dialogue about these matters.

"The federal government shouldn't be in the business of running a community," he said.

Coun. Jenna McGrath said housing prices need to come down for future generations.

And coun. Bert Journault said "I'm disappointed Parks Canada is using these questions to conquer and divide council (to suit their needs). We should present a model to them rather than answering (questions) from Parks Canada."

Ireland said instead of looking at the specific questions Parks Canada wants council to answer, "We need to get back to the underlying generality of transfer of jurisdiction."

Council directed administration to ask Parks Canada to attend their next committee of the whole meeting on Nov. 24.

Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh