St. Albert’s newly approved 2018 budget brings with it a property tax increase of 2.4 per cent and a utility rate increase of two per cent.
Council members voted unanimously in favour of the budget on Monday, approving a $154.1-million municipal operating budget and a $29.9-million municipal capital budget. The operating budget requires a tax levy of $102.5 million, resulting in a 2.4 per cent increase to property taxes – 0.5 per cent lower than initially predicted. The decrease came as a result of council applying $500,000 in expected tax assessment revenue to the 2018 budget, instead of holding it for the 2019 budget as they would normally do.
Based on the average cost of a home in St. Albert being $450,000, the property tax increase means homeowners will pay approximately $82 more each year.
Mayor Cathy Heron said that puts St. Albert right in the middle when it comes to mid-sized municipalities in the province.
“For similar sized cities in Alberta, the average tax increase was 2.45 per cent,” she said.
“I don’t think St. Albert’s out of line. I don’t think we are overtaxing.”
There is still time for that number to change, since council doesn’t set the mill rate until May.
Coun. Sheena Hughes said she has confidence council can get the tax increase down to two per cent by the time they vote on the mill rate.
Coun. Jacquie Hansen moved the budget forward for approval on Monday and said she found the budget process fascinating, albeit daunting.
“Overall, I’m very pleased we were able to bring our overall budget prediction down by 0.5 per cent,” she said.
The municipal operating budget includes 11.94 new full-time-equivalent positions.
The municipal capital budget includes $22.1 million for repair, maintenance and replacement as well as $7.8 million for growth.
Growth funding includes $3.5 million for the engineering department, with projects consisting largely of road improvements; $838,700 for information and technology services, with the majority going toward the southern extension of the city’s fibre network; and $2.4 million for the recreation department, with $1.6 million going toward the next phase of Riel Park and $360,000 for trail and park construction at Red Willow Park in the Braeside neighbourhood.
Heron said she was particularly pleased to see the fibre extension funded, as well as area structure plans for the Lakeview Business District and Badger Lands.
“I think the fact that council was pretty unanimously supportive of doing the area structure plan for Lakeview Business District is a pretty good indication that we’re all pretty much aligned in our desire for more non-residential assessment growth,” she said.
Heron said council’s decision to apply $500,000 in estimated new assessment growth revenue to the 2018 budget has her worried for what tax increase might come forward in 2019.
Council’s decision lowered the tax increase from 2.9 per cent to 2.4 per cent. Usually, that money is held over and applied to the next year’s budget.
“It sets us up for a larger tax increase next year because we won’t have that $500,000,” Heron said.
“But I think probably, given the times, it might have been an appropriate use.”
She said she is also concerned about securing stable funding for municipalities from the province. She expects municipal sustainability initiative funding to be phased out in 2019 and described the fight for provincial dollars as “an uphill battle.”
“We need to have a bigger conversation about keeping municipalities sustainable,” she said.
“I just worry about the future.”
Utility increase ‘reasonable’
Heron described the two per cent utility increase as “reasonable” but said she wants to see the city take a better look at how it finances utilities.
She has been an advocate for the establishment of a utility corporation, much like Epcor in Edmonton, to separate utilities from the city’s budget.
“I think (we will have) some good conversations in the next year or so about utilities and how we govern them in general,” she said.
“There’s a strong potential to generate revenue from utilities.”
The utility operating budget of $39.9 million and utility capital budget of $12 million both passed without debate on Monday.
Councillors also passed amendments to the city’s water, storm sewer and sanitary sewer bylaws to set rates for 2018.
The increase will see $2.91 added to the average monthly bill for residents, based on water use of 20 cubic meters and solid waste of 240 litres.