A capital funding shortfall and proposed tax and utility rate increases dominated the budget-related discussion between residents and city representatives during an open house on Wednesday.
Fourteen residents gathered at Red Willow Place Wednesday evening to hear an overview of the proposed budget and ask questions. All seven council members were on-hand to answer questions as well as city manager Kevin Scoble, community and protective services general manager Dale Bendfeld, infrastructure and development services general manager Glenn Tompolski and corporate services general manager Michelle Bonnici.
Prior to opening the evening up to questions and comments, Scoble gave an abridged version of a presentation he gave to council on Nov. 6, detailing proposed tax and utility rate increases of 2.9 and 2.1 per cent respectively and explaining how the city has started using the municipal price index (MPI) for the first time instead of the consumer price index (CPI).
Several residents questioned the coming increases to property taxes and utility rates, with one reminding city staff that the city’s change to using MPI doesn’t reflect the reality of residents’ budgets, which are usually more closely related to CPI.
Mayor Cathy Heron said the municipal budget isn’t that simple.
“Unfortunately, we don’t live in a CPI world – we live in an MPI world,” she said.
“The basket of goods for our municipality is a lot more expensive than the ones consumers buy.”
She added that while the 2.9 per cent tax increase is what was presented to council, that may not be the final figure.
“We haven’t even started. This is the beginning,” she said.
Resident Gene Checora also spoke up during the meeting to voice his opposition to the proposed tax increase, calling it “ridiculous.”
“I can see 1.5 per cent, maybe, but 2.9 per cent is unrealistic,” he said.
“We all had to make do with less and I think that the City of St. Albert should do the same thing and make do with less.”
Capital shortfall questioned
A looming capital funding shortfall projected for 2019 prompted questions on how administration prioritizes which projects to recommend for funding.
One resident asked administration whether “pet projects” would get a higher ranking on the project list.
City staff have recommended pushing 25 of the 42 proposed capital projects for 2018 to 2019, along with the funds that would have gone toward those projects, to cover a gap in the 2019 repair, maintenance and replacement budget as well as have some funds available that year for growth.
City manager Kevin Scoble said the city is using a new prioritization system this year for the items in the growth capital budget.
The system prioritizes safety and environmental projects first, followed by regulatory projects and then projects to maintain existing service levels.
Coun. Sheena Hughes said she feels the capital funding shortfall ensures priorities are achieved rather than pet projects, although she noted members of council can still bring forward postponed projects to gauge council support.
“Now we’re getting down to what actually needs to get done, as opposed to all these nice-to-haves,” she said.