Jasperites can expect to see an increase in their property taxes next year, as council has set a target tax requisition about 20 per cent higher than in 2020.
Jasper Municipal Council set the target requisition, how much they want to collect in taxes, at $8,429,903 for the 2021 budget year at their Nov. 3 meeting - an increase of more than $1.4 million from 2020.
This number will be used as a starting point “with room for flexibility” for Administration to plan the 2021 budget, and will be subject to a final decision by council in December.
Administration told council that $8.4 million represents the cost of providing 2019 service levels in 2021, considering fixed costs including utilities (electricity and gas bills for municipal facilities), insurance, and debenture repayments.
In 2019, the municipal tax requisition was $7,982,208 and in 2020, property taxes were set to increase by 5.3 per cent, but when the pandemic hit, council voted to reduce the requisition for the year to $7,000,000 to give Jasperites a break - resulting in municipal service cuts, layoffs, and reduced funds sent to reserves.
For 2021, Administration provided a second potential figure, $9,123,403, 30 per cent over last year, which would provide 2019 service levels in 2021 and meet requests submitted by department directors to run their departments to “municipal best practice” with increased transfers to reserves, contracted maintenance and repairs, and meeting staffing requests.
Council went for the lower number as a starting point.
Councillor Paul Butler said the palatability of the increase to Jasper residents was a big consideration.
He said: "No matter where we set the tax requisition, we are in...a very tight economic environment now, and have a responsibility to make decisions about service levels."
Coun. Scott Wilson said he did not support service reductions and council needs to plan for the future.
“We're in this for the long haul,” he said.
The 2021 target tax requisition gives the administration department a starting point to work on a budget.
Council reiterated the figure chosen was a starting point for administration, and that there is room for flexibility.
Coun. Rico Damota said, "It's prudent to plan properly, to set a target, as opposed to writing in stone."
A 2021 operating budget will now be drafted for consideration by council at public budget meetings, which will be held on Nov. 23 and 25, followed by a final decision on Dec. 15.
Funding requests made
Representatives from Jasper Municipal Library and Jasper Victim Services made their 2021 budget requests to council this week.
Sandy Cox, chair of the Jasper Municipal Library board, said their annual grant from the municipality is the library's chief source of revenue.
She emphasized, "A library is more than a book exchange, it's a hub in our community."
This year's ask is $190,000, lower than the $195,700 funding in 2019.
Angie Thom, director of library services, said the library is operating at 30 hours a week, but if all goes to plan, they hope to add 14 hours, and resume the 54-hour schedule by 2025.
Staffing has been increased to keep up with COVID protocol and Cox said staffing and health care costs are the library’s biggest expenses.
Councillor Bert Journault questioned if user fees should be increased because of additional costs.
But Angie Lemire, board treasurer, said Jasper is one of the few libraries that charge user fees in the province.
Council also heard a budget request from Paul Schmidt, Jasper Victim Services Coordinator, asking for continued support for Jasper Victim Services Society.
In a letter, Schmidt noted the Municipality of Jasper was to provide $12,000 in 2020 but that was reduced to $9,500 this year. He said that funding is a key element to meeting a requirement for the Solicitor General grant - one that was anticipated to be $150,000 in the first year but limited to $119,359 with no additional years were confirmed.
McGrath told Schmidt, "In your line of work, every year is a hard year," and expressed gratitude to Schmidt and his team of advocates. Ireland pointed out in addition to serving the core population of Jasper the Victim Services team is "also serving a visitor population". Schmidt said, "It's not because we have fewer numbers that we have less funding," and "I'll be spending into our reserves this year."
Both requests will be part of the municipality's overall budget.
Looking ahead to the 2021 tourist season, Coun. Jenna McGrath suggested establishing a sub committee to handle downtown revitalization matters.
She said this could include the sidewalk seating project that was put in place to increase the flow of customers in light of the effects of the COVID pandemic.
"The time is now," she said. "We need to start this instead of leaving it until next June."
Damota said McGrath's idea was a proactive approach and Mayor Richard Ireland said if businesses had more time to plan, "we would have seen a much better project".
Butler said, "I agree that we need to do our best to provide businesses with as much lead time as possible. We are likely to find ourselves in the same situation."
Pattie Pavlov, general manager of Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce, told council the Chamber would be collecting feedback and suggestions about the project from 174 businesses.
Journault said even businesses that didn't take part in the project benefited from the traffic flow. Council will revisit the topic at their Nov. 17 meeting.
Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh