Council settles on tax increase of 3.27 per cent
Budget will be formally approved Dec. 17
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Saturday, Dec 08, 2012 06:00 am
St. Albert homeowners will pay 3.27 per cent more in property tax next year as city council completed budget deliberations Thursday evening.
Councillors slashed more than 1.5 percentage points off the increase that had been proposed by city administration.
The final budget, which will be formally endorsed by city council on Dec. 17, will also feature a 6.5 per cent increase to utility rates. The LRT levy, which has collected $1 per $100,000 of assessment since its inception, will increase to $1.50 per $100,000 of assessment.
The proposed budget, as originally presented, called for a 2.32 per cent increase to the base budget to maintain existing service levels, as well as an additional 2.84 per cent increase to approve 22 new full-time employees. In total, councillors approved just more than 14 new full-time positions.
Highlights of the budget include the approval of a $500,000 study on the future route of an LRT line through St. Albert, one new member for the economic development services division, new signage for the downtown, a sustainability co-ordinator and approval of a new youth festival.
At Coun. Roger Lemieux’s urging, administration also cut $340,000 from the base budget by slashing employee overtime, airfare and printing costs.
“I wanted to go into the bowels of city hall and say, ‘What have we been doing habitually that we can stop doing?’” Lemieux said. “(Draper) took the bull by the horns and made it work.”
Notable items removed from the budget before it was sent to council include no new police officers in 2013 instead of the two proposed, no study on potentially developing an extreme sports park, no transit service on statutory holidays and no money dedicated to a bid for the 2019 Canada Winter Games until staff first attend an orientation next spring.
The Youth Community Centre, which had stated it will need to close unless council approved increase funding for next year, received $163,000 of the $175,000 it requested.
Board chair Doug Campbell said the board is still waiting on final approval of the budget on Dec. 17 and negotiations with building owner Amacon over using less space in Grandin mall, but felt the funding would be sufficient.
“We’re happy for the support,” Campbell said. “It’s less than we asked for, but I think we feel we can manage the difference.”
The city will also start work on a youth festival, a proposed business case that survived a challenge from Coun. Cam MacKay during debate. MacKay said the festival, conceived to provide an opportunity for older teens, needed to start as a grassroots project and not something manufactured by the city.
MacKay warned city manager Patrick Draper, who conceived the idea, about being too enthusiastic about providing more for older youth to do, saying there was enough in the city. The festival was approved despite MacKay’s criticism.
“That’s how mistakes happen when you jump head first into something,” MacKay said to Draper. “This could be one of the mistakes.”
Transit also featured heavily in the budget. Besides approving a 50-cent increase to the LRT levy charged to each property in St. Albert, which is not reflected in the tax increase, council authorized a half-million-dollar study on LRT through St. Albert, the implementation of new handibus services and will replace Saturday dial-a-bus service with fixed route service by cutting poorly performing routes and dedicating those services to new routes. A motion to add transit service on statutory holidays was defeated.
Transit director Bob McDonald said dial-a-bus service was getting increasingly difficult to manage with more riders using it.
“We really don’t want to exceed the driver’s ability to make changes on routes so we will change to a fixed route,” McDonald said.
Handibus will start running new routes into Edmonton more often during the day, and the city will acquire three replacement buses.
City staff are still calculating the dollar impact of the tax increase on the average homeowner, said chief financial officer Anita Ho.