Council can’t afford to see the 2013 budget only through the lens of economic development and must to try to keep the proposed tax increase to a minimum, says Mayor Nolan Crouse.
Crouse said in an editorial board meeting with the St. Albert Gazette Wednesday that while he does not have a maximum tax increase firmly in mind, three per cent seems right.
“I have a three per cent number in my mind, but I don’t know if it’s going to add up at three per cent because I don’t know what the base is going to be,” Crouse said. “I’ve had that in the back of my mind since I’ve been elected in as mayor on this term.”
City manager Patrick Draper tabled the 2013 proposed budget on Monday, which proposes a 2.32-per-cent increase to maintain 2012 services in 2013, as well as a another potential 2.82-per-cent increase if all 38 business cases, totalling 22 new full-time employees, are approved.
“It’s certainly not going to be five per cent because, looking at the business cases as an example, I don’t support all the business cases. Time is going to tell which ones pass the acid test and which ones don’t. It needs to be somewhere between 2.5 and four per cent. We’ll see how it shakes out.”
Though St. Albert is putting more emphasis on building up its non-residential tax base to ease the burden on residential taxpayers, Crouse said it is not the time to start spending more to prepare for economic development.
“Economic development isn’t the only thing we are serving. We have to make sure we are doing things to impact crime. For whatever reason, the resident feedback is their feeling of a safe community has declined dramatically.”
But there will be no economic development until developers have willing landowners, Crouse said, repeating his number one concern over expanding non-residential development. He wants those who own land to start looking to the future and sell their land for St. Albert’s improvement.
“It’s going to take a lot more work to bring those landowners to the table. The Tappaufs are farmers first. The Henrys are farmers first. How do you convince those people to sell their land to a developer or become a developer? Come on Tappaufs! Sell your darn land. You know what’s going to happen here. Let’s move on.”
Yet Crouse predicted there will be signs that economic development is taking hold by the end of 2013. While there might not be any shovels in the ground, he said he expects to see more land changing hands.
“I know a lot of the stuff that’s going on. You’re going to see land change hands. We’re talking live developers who now have an interest in developing. We did LeClair Way not for residents but because of Riel Park. Are they results? You’re darn right they’re results.”
As for 2013 and the coming municipal election, Crouse said he hasn’t yet decided whether or not he will run for a third consecutive term as mayor. But he also added, when asked, he hasn’t yet given much thought to what his legacy might be.
“What I always strive to do is continuous improvement across the spectrum. It would be listening and hearing many, many things and trying to provide continuous improvement for that. It doesn’t mean you’re focused on one thing. I’m not going to be the mayor who people say did one thing or these things.
“I have the ability and willingness to move many files forward at the same time. It’s also a fault because you move so many files forward at the same time.”