After budget deliberations wrap, mayor says ‘we’re not done yet’

By Thia James
March 16, 2013 - 8:35pm Updated: March 17, 2013 - 9:52am

The final day of budget deliberations wrapped up at Prince Albert’s city hall with recommended items worth a combined $1,989,000 included in the preliminary budget, but Mayor Greg Dionne said they’re not done yet.

“As I told people in the past, this budget, until 2014, is going to be a work in progress,” said Mayor Greg Dionne after the meeting.

“Because we’re still going to see savings from my two cuts on power and fuel and I have a few more cut programs coming, so at the end of the day, we’re not done with the process. But what we are looking at today is a $235 base tax and a two per cent increase in the mill rate.”

The budget committee recommendations are not final – council will have the last word – but the tax impact of the recommended inclusions could be as high as 7.6 per cent. That is, if the preliminary budget as it stands were to be approved by council with no changes.

Dionne said he was pleased with the two-day process. He noted that the committee discussed each item, regardless of dollar value, and said they are going to come up with three or four options for a possible outcome.

He pointed to two reports that came to council recently which show Prince Albert has the second-lowest base tax and the second-highest mill rate.

“We’re just trying to bring them closer together,” he said.

“At the end of the day, that’s not the final one until the report is brought by the director of finance and it’s approved by council.”

The committee motioned to have director of finance Joe Day compile a report on the potential tax implications of the proposed inclusions, and the tax impact of a further $2 million for the road repair program. Only $2 million of the $4 million requested for the road repair program was recommended for inclusion in the second day of the meeting. The committee wanted to look at the tax impact of including the second $2 million first.

“So, it’s just shy of $2 million that we’re looking at through some of the initiatives that were reviewed over the last two days,” director of finance Joe Day said.

Day will give his report to the budget committee, which will give its recommendation to council. The budget will then be up for council’s approval.

During the budget committee meeting, Coun. Charlene Miller asked Day to include an “all-in” percentage with no base tax, in his report.

Coun. Martin Ring asked if the committee was interested in a minimum tax. “You take police and fire as one example, divide that across your properties and that becomes your minimum tax. So that everybody is paying equal for that – those two services.”

Ring said they’ve done that before and some municipalities have a combination of a base tax and a minimum tax.

And as the committee members discussed what they wanted Day to include in his report, Dionne cautioned the media: None of this is committed and the big discussion is to come.

WHAT THE BIG DISCUSSION WILL BE ABOUT

The budget committee and council will have to decide how the base budget increases and the increases added on by the recommended inclusions, will mean to what taxpayers see on their bills this spring.

Among the options that are being explored is a hike to the base tax and to the mill rate.

“A base tax is an amount we would charge equally to all residential property owners, whereas a mill rate is a percentage of tax rate applied based on the value of your home,” Day said. “It’s kind of a one or the other, but the base tax is often viewed as a more equal way to distribute costs across a number of properties.

Day said that in May, residents will get their tax notices, and “by the sounds of it, be… an increase in the base tax that we already have on there and a small increase to the portion that they pay based on the value of their home or their assessment. ”

It’s just a matter of how council is looking at distributing that, he said.

BUDGET COMMITTEE CAUTIOUS ABOUT SPENDING

While close to $2 million in recommended additions to the preliminary budget were forwarded to council, the budget committee spend much of the two days debating each proposed item. The two-day meeting was not well-attended by the public, with most of the chairs in the public seating area remaining empty during the meetings.

Budget committee members excluded a number of capital projects that would have been funded by operations, including a $165,000 HVAC system for the police station, $46,500 to replace benches downtown and a number of improvements for city-owned facilities, including the Art Hauser Centre.

At one point, Coun. Ted Zurakowski noted there was "blood on the floor" from "all of the cuts" - meaning all of the increases excluded -  by the committee.

Members of the committee even proposed alternative solutions to some of the problems that have led to a couple of the requests. One included taking the meters from a lot it leased parking stalls in to replace some of the damaged parking meters, at a savings of $20,000.

But with residents facing a tax increase in the spring, even items in the base budget may not go unscathed.

Atkinson said he wanted to get rid of the flower planting program in the base budget and have that money re-allocated to public transit.

“Get rid of the flowers. I’m suggesting that now, that’s a motion. Stop the flowers,” he said.

When told by the mayor that the motion would have to be brought to council, Atkinson said he would bring it up.

“I hate those flowers.”

For a more detailed breakdown of what the budget committee voted to include, see the Twitter feed here.

[email protected]

On Twitter: @thiajames
 

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