St. John's budget passes unanimously with no increase in residential, commercial tax rates

The 2020 budget for the City of St. John's, passed unanimously at Monday's council meeting, has no increase in residential or commercial rates. 

The residential rate will remain at 7.7 mills and the commercial rate will stay at 26.1 mills. Water taxes will remain the same as in 2019, $605, which was a $25 increase from the year before.

The city's overall spending for 2020 is projected to be $305,578,936, up by 0.3 per cent from 2019. 

"We spent this year finding adjustments and savings and new ways of doing things to keep things level, but we were able to find enough room to make a few adjustments … that it will make life hopefully a bit better for people in the city," said Coun. Dave Lane.

Lane said electricity rates have not gone up as they had predicted so they were able to mitigate that money. The city also paid down some of the pension debt liability which Lane says will save the city money on interest. 

Improvements to public transit

The budget also calls for the city to roll out some enhancements to the public transit system starting March 2. Transit rides will be free for children under 12, with drivers using their discretion as to who appears to be the eligible age.

Another initiative, beginning Sept. 7, will see buses travel the main routes more frequently during peak hours. The city will purchase another bus to keep up with the demand. Also, riders are able to take public transit to Galway.

These recommendations come after the final report of the Public Transit Review, which was released in November.

"Public transit has been a particular focus point for this council," said Coun. Dave Lane.

Although more money was put toward services, the cost of operating Metrobus is slightly down due to an increase in ridership over the last 16 months. 

However, there was an 11.6 per cent increase to the GoBus operating budget.

Together those services total for $18.34 million in 2020.

St. John's Sports and Entertainment "remains a challenge": Lane

However, despite the negotiation of a 10-year lease with the St. John's Edge and the Newfoundland Growlers, the economic environment for St. John's Sports and Entertainment is still challenging, Lane said.

The operating budget is up substantially due to the new 10-year lease with the sporting teams, fewer non-sporting events at Mile One and the convention centre, and investments in sales and marketing, the city said.

The city predicts it will have to add about $1 million to the operating subsidy fund for SJSE in 2020. 

"The difficulty with Mile One and the convention centre is predictability ... but we want to make sure that we have budgeted correctly according to our best estimates at the time," said Mayor Danny Breen, following Monday's council meeting.

Breen said the city will be looking at better ways to market Mile One and the St. John's Convention Centre to get more performances and people out to the facility, but feels overall it's a good investment for the city.

"I think they are key pieces of economic infrastructure, they provide great entertainment for people ... We just have to make sure our business plan is still the one that is going to work best for us moving forward."

The city will also be reinstating the art procurement program.

Nancy Healey, the CEO of the St. John's Board of Trade said the relief was the first thing that came to mind when the budget was announced. 

"Often times we come here to city hall and it's not as good news. There have been no increases to taxes which is a relief for the business community for sure," she said.

Parking meters

The city predicts losing more than $1.1 million due to vandalized parking meters because fees are not being collected and fewer parking tickets are being given out.

New pay stations will begin to roll out this winter, and full installation should be complete by the end of next year.

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