North Battleford City Hall administration is proposing a three per cent property tax increase and 4.5 per cent utility rate increase for next year in the first draft of the 2018 budget, presented to council at the first budget deliberation meeting Wednesday night.
City manager Jim Puffalt said administration was able to keep the proposed tax increase down by making significant reductions in spending in response to this past spring provincial budget cuts.
He said in his report, initially the city had thought it would need a 10 to 12 per cent increase in property taxes due to loss of revenue and increased costs resulting from the 2017 provincial budget, but it was able to save money by reducing hours of operations for some of its services where possible, eliminating positions, and finding more efficiencies. It also managed to force partners such as the province to pay their share for such services as policing and prison facilities.
"Council and staff took this challenge on and said we cannot come back to the community with a 12 per cent increase," said Puffalt following the meeting. "That's just not going to be realistic, and it's not fair. So we had to take lots of steps back in April so we could do this. That was honestly our initial projection. If we did nothing, we are talking 10, 12, or nine per cent increases to try to cover everything off."
Puffalt said the city tried to get as much capital funding as it could in 2017, so the city started negotiating with the province immediately.
"That's a half-a-million-dollar change to the positive for us because we went after the province and said you need to pay for your [services]," he said.
He said throughout the year in 2017 the city has had to reduce staff, and divert projects, and find other ways to reduce expenses.
Puffalt said council offered good guidance and staff found efficiencies.
"We all want to find the best solution for the city," he said. "We had to take our creativity to new heights to find absolutely everything."
Mayor Ryan Bater said council will need to consider administration's recommendations in the budget proposal before making any decisions.
"This is a big project," he said. "I know that the administration team started working on this in the summer time, probably mid-July. So this is the culmination of a lot of hours work. Obviously, council wants to ensure that all of the activities we undertake as a municipality are consistent with our strategic plan, and that things are budgeted accordingly in order to achieve our goals."
Some of the bigger projects for 2018 include the continued work on the UPAR (Underground Pipeline and Asphalt Replacement) rehabilitation projects.
"We've had discussions over the last little while and the direction council has been giving is to maintain existing levels of UPAR," said Bater. "That's what administration has put together.
"We've had the program for three years now," he added. "There have been increases every year. The feeling was to maintain existing levels, and not to increase it."
During the meeting, council received reports on the city’s fire department services, and the Community Safety Officer program.
A number of non-profit organizations that receive grant funding from the city gave presentations on their services and financial needs for 2018. Council is expected to decide on the requests at the final budget deliberation meeting.
After reviewing and making any changes to the budget document it sees fit, council expects to approve the final budget on Dec. 11.
The mayor pointed out while the 2018 budget will be approved in December, the budget does not factor in any changes to the mill rates, which won’t be established until likely several months later.
“In terms of what tax increase we are looking at, that’s when that is developed,” Bater said.”But in terms of funding the projects and services, and programs within the budget, that is what we are targeting to have approval on before Christmas.”
The next budget deliberation meetings will be Monday, Dec. 4 covering infrastructure and capital costs. The following meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 6 will focus on Leisure, Protective Services and Planning Dept. initiatives. Meetings run from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and are open to the public.
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