SUMA says provincial cuts will force Sask. towns, cities to hike taxes

SUMA says provincial cuts will force Sask. towns, cities to hike taxes

The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association is asking the provincial government to reverse millions of dollars in cuts to the province's towns and cities.

SUMA president Gordon Barnhart said the 2017 budget cut millions of dollars in payments-in-lieu from Saskatchewan municipalities. As a result, many cities will likely need to reopen their budgets.

"The province has eliminated $36 million in funding from more than 100 hometowns without consultation," Barnhart said in a news release. "Many councils will need to hike property taxes to stay in the black."

The statement from SUMA is a marked difference from the reception Premier Brad Wall received at the group's convention in February, where he received a standing ovation. At the time, Wall warned that everything was on the table, including payments-in-lieu from Crown corporations.

"This is no longer a respectful partnership between governments," Barnhart said. "Hometowns are handcuffed by limited revenue sources and the inability to run an operating deficit. And now, they are being forced to do the province's dirty work."

The province has responded to the outcry from municipalities by advising mayors and councillors to reduce spending and dip into financial reserves. 

"Many communities do not have large reserves," Barnhart said.

"Besides, reserve funds are usually a contingency plan for snow removal emergencies, major water main breaks, and other unexpected catastrophic infrastructure needs — not for last-minute, permanent cuts by the province."

Different communities have reacted in different ways. Saskatoon city council has threatened to take the province to court over the issue, while Regina has voted to reopen the city's budget to find solutions.

Government Relations Minister Donna Harpauer said the provincial government has been generous to towns and cities since it formed government, allocating $2 billion dollars in municipal revenue-sharing grants.

The cuts were one part of a budget designed to tame a $696 million deficit. Other measures include a one per cent increase in the provincial sales tax and the closure of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company bus service.