The city’s utility funding model will stay in its present form after councillors voted down a motion to return grant funding to the model.
The motion from Coun. Sheena Hughes suggested the city amend its utility model by the end of the year to include 30 per cent of the funds the city receives through the provincial municipal sustainability initiative (MSI). That would bring the grant allocation for the utility model up to $3.5 million per year.
The motion failed 6-1 with Hughes in favour.
Starting in 2015, the city began to phase out MSI grant funds from its utility funding model in order to create a self-sustaining funding model. Hughes opposed the decision at the time and campaigned for re-election last month on a platform that included returning the funds to the utility model.
“This has been a serious concern of mine for the past few years,” she said, re-iterating a promise to bring the motion back each year until it passes.
The phase-out of MSI dollars led to a hike in utility rates, which Hughes has criticized as a “hidden tax increase.”
An administrative report on the motion states the grant dollars are currently allocated to the 2018 municipal capital budget and removing those funds would require city staff to cut back on recommended projects.
Additionally, it notes the amount of users paying for utilities include some who are not taxpayers.
Before casting his vote, Coun. Wes Brodhead said he fundamentally disagrees with the idea that organizations that don’t currently pay taxes should benefit from provincial grant dollars that are meant for ratepayers.
“I don’t see this as being the best use of our money,” he said.
Councillors also pointed to budgetary pressures the provincial government is facing, saying that brings into question whether MSI funding will be stable in the future.
“I don’t think we can be sure from year to year what grant money will look like,” Coun. Jacquie Hansen said.
Coun. Natalie Joly said when MSI funds were removed in 2015, she agreed with Hughes that they should be re-instated. Now, she said, her priority is stability.
“We need to make sure (utilities) are funded adequately without relying on grant funding,” she said.
Coun. Ray Watkins agreed the utility model should be self-sustaining.
Mayor Cathy Heron said while she was voting against the motion she wants Hughes and the council to work out a different way of achieving Hughes’ goal.
“If the ultimate goal is to bring down utilities, then let’s look at the way we can actually achieve that,” she said.
“Let’s look at the model overall.”