Taxes going up by 1.64 per cent

Lisa
Lisa Goudy
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Council finalizes 2014 operating budget after much debate

The operating budget is approved and with it comes a 1.64 per cent tax increase.

Council finalized the 2014-2015 operating budget at Monday’s council meeting. The increased taxes will generate an additional $353,065 for the city’s operating budget. While several items were re-voted on at the meeting, the majority of council approved the budget as budget committee had approved it.

“I believe council’s done a good job and that it’s well-worth supporting this budget,” said Mayor Deb Higgins. “We need a utilities master plan to lay out a good, solid plan for the city to move forward.”

She said the budget includes a 17 per cent increase in the public works department and accounted for a $200,000 reduction in provincial government revenue sharing. While the utilities plan should’ve been implemented five or 10 years ago, Higgins stressed the importance of planning to deal with current problems to “receive the maximum benefit from the resources you are investing in.”

But Coun. Brian Swanson said the operating budget doesn’t do enough to address the city’s infrastructure. He said inflation in Saskatchewan was 1.5 per cent in 2013 and benefits and salaries in the city increased 3.5 per cent last year.

“We have a serious problem here. I’m not going to … put my head in the sand. We have to do something about it,” said Swanson. “The solutions are not pain-free. The solutions are not found in an operating budget like this.”

He said he’d prefer getting the tax increase to zero to make “hard decisions” to minimize operating expenditures. That would allow for more money in the capital budget to “seriously address our water distribution system problems. They are serious problems,” he said.

However, Coun. Heather Eby said council added infrastructure items to the budget that weren’t there previously. For example, the budget includes an increase of $100,000 to the sealing and capping budget in the engineering department that now totals $154,120.

Her issue with adding more money for infrastructure right now is that the city is carrying forward close to $9 million of uncompleted projects into 2014.

“We need to get that work done … before we pile on some more projects that aren’t going to get done,” said Eby. “I just think 2014 will be a year, hopefully, of completing already approved projects and getting ready for 2015, where we can implement a well-planned systematic approach to our infrastructure problems.”

But Coun. Dawn Luhning agreed with Swanson in that the operating budget doesn’t do enough, especially considering council approved allocating $50,000 to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and $25,000 to the Telus Cup.

“We use our roads every day. We use our water lines every day. We use our sewer lines every day,” she said. “If we do not focus on those issues at some point, what worries me is there’s just going to come a time where something is going to just happen and we are going to be in a very serious situation.”

The operating budget was passed as presented with Swanson and Luhning opposed.

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.

Organizations: Telus

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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