City looks at 2.3% tax hike
Proposed increase could range from 2.29 to 5.14 per cent
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Tuesday, Sep 11, 2012 05:36 pm
Maintaining St. Albert’s current level of services in 2013 will require a property tax increase of 2.29 per cent, city councillors learned Monday when city administration presented its preliminary budget position to the standing committee on finance.
This “base budget” would keep 2012 service levels intact but wouldn’t allow for any additional programs.
City administrators have compiled 35 business cases that would require $2.2 million in additional spending if they were all approved. This would mean a further tax increase of 2.85 per cent, which would bring the total potential increase to 5.14 per cent.
“That’s heavy,” said Coun. Cathy Heron. “That’s a little high. It’ll be interesting.”
The 2013 budget process will begin Oct. 5 when councillors receive their draft budget binders. City manager Patrick Draper will officially present the document on Oct. 29. Council will then spend November and December debating its contents in committee-of-the-whole meetings.
In previous years, business cases in the draft budget have been inserted into the process as funded or unfunded and their impact on the budget included in the cumulative preliminary budget position. Councillors could then move cases from one list to the other, thereby increasing or decreasing the percentage tax increase.
But under a procedural change introduced this year, all of the business cases are considered unfunded, although city manager Patrick Draper will make some recommendations on which cases are deemed desirable. With the base budget viewed as having little room to cut, council is in a position of only adding business cases, which will only increase the percentage.
“Politically we’re starting at 2.29 per cent and we’re probably going to end up higher,” Heron said. “It could have started at 5.14 and then we could have reduced it. It will be a good discussion after budget if it’s something we want to do.”
At this point, council knows little of the contents of each business case, which are typically proposals to add a service or position or expense to the operating budget. A general summary included in Monday’s agenda report refers to “increased focus on economic development, expanding transit services, enhancement of public safety by additional police officers, additional estimates to outside agencies to provide community services and development and strengthening of the city’s tourism program through a 2019 Winter Games bid.
The way in which Draper and chief financial officer Anita Ho presented the preliminary position Monday night might not be how Draper presents it on Oct. 29.
“I talked real briefly with Patrick after the meeting and I said, ‘That’s different,’” said Mayor Nolan Crouse. “I’m not sure if we’re comfortable doing it that way because we could have 35 motions going up and down. He said he’d think about that.”
While Heron called the base budget increase of 2.29 per cent “a good number,” Coun. Malcolm Parker said there are some service areas the city can look at paring down to incur some savings.
“If a service is at 95 per cent in one area, can we cut back on that?” Parker said. “There are some things in the community that give us the opportunity to manage our taxes fiscally and responsibly without any pain to the public.”
Regardless of how the budget is presented, Heron believes council is in for a difficult process.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy, not like the last two. The last two were manageable,” she said. “This one will be the hardest since the election.”