Moose Jaw city council votes for 2021 tax increase

·3 min read

Moose Jaw’s homeowners and businesses are to pay higher property taxes starting Jan. 1, thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Six councillors and Mayor Fraser Tolmie voted unanimously Monday afternoon for a 2.96-per-cent mill rate increase as part of the city’s 2021 budget deliberations.

The percentage bump is designed in part to offset budget cuts from 2020.

“(It) was a little bit of a makeup for that,” financial services director Brian Acker said.

He referenced council’s May choice to cut this year’s property tax increase to zero per cent, due to economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

“That sort of created the framework around this year’s budget, because zero per cent is, in effect, in a lot of cases a reduction,” Acker said.

For an average homeowner (assessed annual property value of $259,866), the tax bump equates to an extra $43.62 owed to the city over the next 12 months.

On a monthly basis, that’s an extra $3.64.

Acker said the pandemic affected how the city ran recreation centres.

“Obviously our revenues our down, because you’re limited in the number people that can participate in those activities based on social distancing and facility limits.

“On the other side of that, your costs are up, because you have additional costs for cleaning and types of staffing,” he said.

The 2.96 percentage bump is divided among 1.1 per cent for police, one per cent for parks and recreation contributions, and 0.86 per cent for city services.

Businesses and homeowners are also to see higher utility bills in the New Year: Council twice voted 5-2 to increase water and sewer rates by two per cent each.

Long-serving councillor Dawn Luhning voted in opposition both times.

“I just didn’t think — because of the pandemic and COVID-19 — that maybe we went as far as we could to alleviate the tax increase to the citizens,” she said.

“One of the things we got the most feedback on during the (2020 fall election) campaign is the continual, really high increases in sewer and water, and I think that’s one of the things we could have just paused.”

Luhning underscored how smaller businesses — restaurants, hair salons, massage therapists — are having a tougher go of it through the pandemic.

“I really wanted both (water and sewer) to be zero and then re-evaluate in a few months,” she said.

She figures that’s likely going to happen anyway, similar to May’s re-evaluated zero-percent tax increase. “With these restrictions still happening until the middle of January … there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight yet for this.”

Council also unanimously approved an annual $65 infrastructure levy for each ratepayer: The money is designated for the city’s cast iron water main replacement program; it had been set at $30 for 2020.

Evan Radford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Regina Leader-Post, The Leader-Post