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City to present draft 2023 budget Oct. 24

The Oct. 24 presentation will be livestreamed on the city’s YouTube page, as with other council meetings.
Measures the city is eyeing to reduce the tax increase include a cut to library funding, and use of one-time COVID funding received from the province. FILE/Photo

Members of the public will soon have more clarity around the tax impact they could face in 2023, as the City of St. Albert prepares to present its draft budget to council on Oct. 24. 

In the spring, city administration projected a tax increase of 7.2 per cent for 2023, with council directing them to bring the increase down to three to five per cent. Later at the end of August, administration told council the increase they would be faced with had climbed to 8.2 per cent, meaning the city would have to find $6.3 million in savings to bring the increase down to three per cent. 

At the same meeting, the city gauged council’s interest in a variety of one-time measures to bring the tax increase down, such as using funding received from the province to help shoulder the cost of COVID impacts. 

Council also approved a 50-per-cent hike in electrical franchise fees (a fee electricity customers see on their monthly utility bills) in an effort to bring the increase down to 6.8 per cent, though some council members voiced concerns about the measure being a tax increase by another name. 

The city plans to review its service levels and consider service reductions for subsequent years.  

Mayor Cathy Heron said the city has been “pretty public” about the economic challenges it’s facing this budget season. 

“You’ll never get unanimous consent on what service levels should be reduced,” Heron said, noting that some members of the public may feel the library is the top priority, while others might not value it in the same way.  

In August, council members said they would be open to considering a $1.5-million reduction to library funding over the next three years (the current annual grant is $4.6 million). 

Similarly, Coun. Ken MacKay said the end result of council’s budget deliberation will inevitably upset some members of the public. 

“It’s going to be interesting to see how that feedback works into our deliberations,” MacKay said of a campaign the library is currently running to oppose the cuts. 

“At the same time, I need to make sure we still offer the same things that St. Albert is known for, and that’s quality of services and quality of life, but maintain our taxes to a reasonable rate.”

Councillor frustrated with budget lead-up  

Coun. Sheena Hughes said she is “frustrated … going into this budget.”

“We were asked what we wanted the tax increase to be reduced down to, and then … every meeting we’ve had begs question has indicated that the city … is not recommending that we achieve the tax increase that council was asked for,” Hughes said. 

Further, Hughes said the discussion never centred around finding efficiencies or changing the current city organization. 

“Discussions which I thought we would be having never manifested,” Hughes said. “I would like to have more tools in our tool chest to be able to have these honest discussions and figure out what’s going on and work together.”

The Gazette reached out to the city’s chief administrative officer, Bill Fletcher, and Coun. Mike Killick, but did not hear back by press time. 

Asked whether he feels council has been equipped with the proper tools coming into the budget season, Coun. Wes Brodhead said there are “always tools.”

He noted last year council made some motions that reduced the budget by thousands of dollars, but now the city needs to find savings in the magnitude of millions.  

“It’s not good governance for council to come in and say, ‘well, just bring in a five [per-cent increase], … because then you’re not governing. You’re not defining the impact to your community,” Brodhead said. 

“You’re in fact abdicating your responsibility to make decisions.” 

Coun. Natalie Joly said tough decisions at budget time are the same as those throughout the year. 

“Through the whole process, the priority has really been about making sure service levels are meeting the needs of residents and making sure that we’re being proactive in our approach,” Joly said.  

Coun. Shelley Biermanski said she would like to see administration coming forward with the “leanest budget possible,” and have council tasked with adding on items. 

“Rather than having everything under the sun there and we have to look for inefficiencies and then work backwards, I would rather see a true clean budget,” Biermanski said. 

“We’ll have to get right into it and work really hard at getting things down again.”

The Oct. 24 presentation will be livestreamed on the city’s YouTube page, as with other council meetings.

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