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Draft budget proposes 5.5 per cent property tax increase

St. Albert residents could be facing a 5.5 per cent property tax increase next year, according to the city's draft 2024 budget released on Tuesday.

St. Albert residents could be facing a 5.5 per cent property tax increase next year, according to the city's draft 2024 budget.

A 5.5 per cent tax increase, chief administrative officer Bill Fletcher told council on Tuesday, means homeowners with a property value of $500,000 would see an increase of $226 on next year's property taxes. Utility fees will also increase by 7.2 per cent, which comes out to an increase of $10.44 per month ($125.88 per year) for the average household. 

A $226 property tax increase for homeowners is roughly equivalent to ordering Nitza's Pizza's large two-for-one classic pizzas six times a year.

The utility fee increase for the year is almost equivalent to 12 daily Servus Place admissions for an adult.

The increase in property taxes, Fletcher said, was mainly (4.7 per cent) attributable to maintaining service levels, while the remaining 0.8 per cent is a result of the need to provide transit services to the Jensen Lakes and Riverside neighbourhoods, pay off the city's debt, and fund the library and the Arts and Heritage Foundation.

“The proposed 2024 budget and business cases focus on maintaining the highest standards expected for delivery of programs and services to our community as approved by council; enhancing efficiency by integrating digital technology and building capacity for some key service areas; advancing (council's) strategic plan in general, and economic prosperity specifically, to ensure we continue to support and enable non-residential development with a focus on the Lakeview Business District; and, finally, responding to community growth,” Fletcher told council.

City staff's proposed municipal operating budget for 2024 is $134.1 million, which represents an increase of $9.2 million compared to the city's 2023 operating budget.

Included in next year's proposed operating budget are 12 new full-time staff positions, which the draft budget says can be funded through the city's 2023 assessment growth revenue, or the additional tax revenue collected this year from new properties.

The 12 proposed new full-time staff positions, the proposed budget shows, are spread out across city departments but include two new fleet maintenance positions for public operations; two planning and development positions, including another development officer to “maintain service levels for development permit applications”; two engineering positions; two information technology (I.T.) positions; two human resources positions; and three utility positions.

As well, city staff has proposed converting four non-full-time or temporary staff positions to full-time positions.

The new full-time positions, as well as the four converted full-time positions, would result in a $935,200 addition to next year's operating costs, the proposed budget shows.

The city currently has about 685 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, meaning that unless council makes any changes to the draft 2024 budget, the city's staff will grow by 16 positions. The 2023 budget similarly created 16 full-time staff positions, while the city's 2022 budget resulted in a reduction of three FTEs.

“These (new full-time staff positions) were prioritized and determined to be required to maintain existing services and service levels and provide resource stability within departments to deliver related services,” Fletcher said, adding that the cost of city services, including staff, represents 82 per cent of the proposed 2024 operating budget.

“The proposed budget balances the needs and the wants of our residents while investing in the future of the community,” he said.

Besides the $134.1 million budgeted for overall city operations next year, administration has also proposed a municipal capital budget of $41.5 million, funded largely through reserve funding, which will pay for 42 capital projects.

Of the 42 capital projects included in the proposed budget, 25 received council approval as part of the repair, maintain, replace (RMR) budget process in June, while the remaining projects, totalling $9.96 million, will only be approved once the budget is finalized in December.

Included in the projects that have yet to receive formal council approval is the creation of a “mobility choices strategy,” which, for $1 million, will result in a long-term plan for transit and transportation as the city's current long-term plan for transit is “out of date and not reflective of current and future needs of the community.”

Another project that will be funded next year, unless council decides otherwise, is the continued construction of the Oakmont trail network for $2.6 million.

For the city's utility capital budget next year, administration has proposed spending $22.4 million to cover 14 projects, 13 of which were already approved in June as part of the RMR budget. The remaining new utility capital project that hasn't received council approval quite yet is the purchase of a garbage truck for $410,000.

Utility increase

As a result of the ongoing cost of operating utility infrastructure, Fletcher told council, the draft budget also includes a 7.2 per cent increase to residents' utility fees, which equals a $10.44 per month increase.

The draft budget shows, and council heard on Tuesday, that the utility rate increase is a result of a proposed $1.43 monthly increase to the water flat rate; a $2.57 monthly increase to the wastewater supplemental capital contribution (which is collected and saved to fund future utility capital projects); a $2.70 increase to the monthly water supplemental capital contribution; and an increase to the rate for water and wastewater services as determined by Epcor and Arrow Utilities (formerly the Alberta Capital Region Wastewater Commission).

A report to council written by Suzanne Findlay, city manager of financial services, as well as Darija Slokar, city manager of strategic services, states that the draft budget's “emphasizes the need to invest in the future by enabling non-residential development, diversifying revenue, and increasing connectivity throughout our city to include growth areas.”

“Our city remains dedicated to fiscal responsibility by constantly seeking opportunities for improvement, targeted investment in priority areas, and sound resource and financial management for the betterment of our residents, individually and collectively,” the report states.

From now until Nov. 7 residents can provide feedback on the proposed budget through the city's Cultivate the Conversation platform.

Council is scheduled to hear presentations from each city department about the budget starting on Oct. 30, after which council will have two weeks to submit motions to make changes to the budget, which will then be debated at the end of November.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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