Council approves 2014 budget

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Tax increase of 1.87 per cent projected

St. Albert council passed the city’s 2014 budget in a series of unanimous votes on Monday night.

After three weeks of budget deliberations, city council approved the municipal and utility capital budgets, the municipal operating budget and the utility operating budget and bylaws.

The budget as approved would result in a municipal property tax increase of about 1.87 per cent, but council and staff noted the tax rate won’t be set until May.

“Today all we’re really giving our nod to is our priorities and the projects that we want administration to carry forward in 2014,” said Coun. Cathy Heron.

Council also set utility rates, which are projected to increase by 6.4 per cent.

The municipal operating budget was set at $130,864,900. The municipal capital budget was approved at $26,835,500. The utility capital budget was passed at $17,558,000 and the utility operating budget for 2014 is $32,400,700.

The unanimous votes came only after a pair of councillors raised concerns over the way new assessment growth revenue was being presented in the budget.

Coun. Sheena Hughes was concerned because, while council had been told new assessment growth revenue was estimated to be $2.1 million, the operating budget they finalized Monday listed a figure of $1.6 million. City manager Patrick Draper explained that this is the tax money required to complete “growth” projects, of which council had only approved $1.6 million worth, to be funded from new growth assessment revenue.

“The reality is that growth revenue should say $2.1 million,” Hughes said.

It was a concern shared by Coun. Cam MacKay, asking if the forecast had changed.

Chief financial officer Anita Ho said staff will report back once it’s known what the actual assessment growth is going to be.

“At that time there will be adjustment to the tax rate,” Ho said.

Despite Hughes’ expressing “trepidation” regarding the way assessment growth was noted in the operating budget, she and the rest of council passed the budgets as presented, making no changes to their previous decisions and motions.

Mayor Nolan Crouse encouraged that approval.

“We’ve each had a shot at it,” he said. “This is your budget. This is our budget.”

He suggested there could be some challenges ahead for staff to accomplish all the work that’s been put forward in the budget.

“I believe there’s some areas of the corporation that are likely overloaded … I’m just saying that how we accomplish all that’s ahead of us is going to be a challenge,” Crouse said, noting the engineering, planning and environmental departments in the city as ones that might be particularly stressed.

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