Tax increase survives White City budget vote

·4 min read

White City ratepayers will see a property tax increase in 2021 after town council set its annual budget Jan. 11, but the increase will be mitigated in part by the results of this year’s provincial property revaluation.

Settled by a 5-2 vote, council passed a budget that increases the residential and commercial mill rate by 0.33 mills, or 9.7 per cent, to 3.719 mills. Base taxes are also going up, with developed properties to pay $990 this year — up $40 or 4.2 per cent from last year — and undeveloped properties to pay $710, up $30 or 4.4 per cent over last year.

With preliminary data from the Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency’s 2021 revaluation showing a province-wide decrease in residential property values, however, the actual increase to White City’s property tax revenues is budgeted at 2.86 per cent.

Council had initially sent the budget back to administration in December with the goal of achieving a 0.01 per cent tax increase. However, with utility accounts running in deficit, recent water rate increases yet to bring those services to self-sufficiency, and concerns over the future impact of hypothetical spending cuts that would have been required to balance the budget without increasing taxes, administration came back in January and recommended the tax increase to council.

Councillors Hal Zorn and Scott Moskal voted against the final budget as presented, while Mayor Brian Fergusson, Deputy Mayor Rebecca Otitoju and councillors Andrew Boschman, Bill Krzysik and Kris Moen voted in favour.

The 2021 budget projects gross operating revenues of $7.09 million, gross operating expenditures of $7.161 million and gross capital expenditures of $5.541 million. With $2.231 million in grants and other capital contributions factored in, along with amortization, debt repayments, a $390,394 transfer from the town’s reserves, and the issuance of $2.673 million in new long-term debt, the town is projecting a surplus of $4,552 for the year.

White City residents had previously taken on almost $5.5 million in debt over the 2019 and 2020 tax years combined.

Overall outstanding debt levels are projected to double from $9,037,900 in 2019 to $18,346,275 in 2023 due to projects such as the Multi-Use Recreation Facility, Betteridge Road buildout, and a Town Centre Office. Some of these projects, such as Betteridge Road, are slated to be funded by development levies.

“There are some risks council should be aware of here, with respect to how soon we get development moving in this community again,” town manager Ken Kolb told council. “One, potential new borrowing would be required for the wastewater facility, and how soon we are able to collect that back as well. Those are a couple of unknowns which affect our capital plans going forward this year.”

When Fergusson asked what that risk meant overall, Kolb replied if lands around the Town Centre area aren’t developed, the development levies needed to pay for it won’t be collected.

“If we do get the ability to approve development in 2021, then our risk is significantly reduced,” Kolb said. “I wouldn’t recommend you proceed with construction until such a time you have development agreements signed and the developments approved by Community Planning.”

Kolb said they can continue to plan for projects such as the Betteridge Road improvements or the Multi-Use Recreation Facility though there could be delays.

When councillors started debate after the budget presentation, Moskal repeated his support for the near-zero per cent tax increase.

“To draw that contrast in that unfortunate and unnecessary competitive nature between the RM and White City, and that they have held the line in the last two years while we have increased, it is important for us to hold the line noting that things will change with the annexation decision regardless of that decision,” Moskal said. “If we are successful in that annexation as we have proposed, things will change and they won’t change for the worse as taxes would not be going up for residents. That being said, if the decision is in part or fully declined we will need to revisit how we operate and spend in this town. We will be limited in future growth. We will not be able to expand. We will be restricted and that means a lot of things change.”

Others such as Otitoju, said they shouldn’t be comparing tax rates with the RM of Edenwold in the first place.

“We do need to be competitive and comparable, but I have a concern services could be stopped by doing this,” Otitoju said. “We need to make sure we make a budget that addresses concerns now. Whether we are successful with annexation or not, those are concerns for tomorrow.”

Keith Borkowsky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Quad Town Forum