Residential property taxes stand at a 2.92 per cent increase for the average home assessed at $255,000 after round two of budget planning wrapped up early this week.
The final budget meeting is set for Jan. 29, when a final tax rate will be decided.
Council met Monday morning for three hours to decide which extras it would add to its 2014 budget and which service requests would be left out.
Council’s decisions were based on strategic priorities identified in the last few months, with revitalizing downtown near the top of the list.
In an effort to make improvements for businesses and pedestrian traffic on Shoppers Row, council voted to spend $15,000 from its sewer reserve fund (which does not impact general taxation) to auger the sewer lines of businesses on Shoppers Row that have been impacted by the long roots of the London plane trees which line the street. Not only will the sewer lines be augered to remove root growth but clean-outs will be installed where necessary under an ongoing maintenance program.
Coun. Andy Adams suggested the city spend $11,000 to remove six problem trees but council was hesitant to make such a drastic change.
Coun. Ron Kerr was concerned about cutting trees because council doesn’t have a timetable for replacement.
“We don’t know how long we’ll be looking at missing teeth in our downtown core,” Kerr said. “I understand everybody’s concerns with this but I would suggest a more phased approach to this. Going out and removing trees – we’re certainly going to notice it and you can’t undo tree removal.”
In keeping with the downtown improvement theme, council also voted to implement a $50,000 program (funded by the gaming reserve) to revitalize downtown facades and storefronts. The program will encourage business owners to invest in facade renovations and storefront upgrades by providing matching grants to cover a portion of the renovation costs.
Adams suggested that if the program is successful, council could consider rolling it out to other areas of the city.
Council also elected to beautify Pier Street with a new sign for the Discovery Pier entrance. The new, $20,000 sign, funded from the facility reserve, will include upgraded lighting and space for short-term advertising.
Council will also take $21,500 from the facility reserve to create a small gravel parking lot and drop off area at Kingfisher Creek for visitors to the Haig Brown House. In addition, included in the budget will be an extra $25,000 to the parks and recreation department, which will come out of general taxation. Budget cuts over the last few years have taken its toll on the parks department.
“The parks department received 600 service requests in 2013…an increase of 146 per cent (over 2012),” reads the budget report. “The majority of these requests originate with the public and involve vandalism, safety and/or repairs, and as such, a prompt response is desirable. The parks department has tried to absorb this increasing workload within existing resources. This is no longer possible without sacrificing the routine maintenance service levels of park infrastructure and the critical support parks staff provide to special events.”
Adams made a motion to have staff continue to provide support to community events such as Logger Sports, Canada Day and the Dragon Boat races without any additional funding, and to adjust maintenance levels as required.
Council, however, turned that down.
“I’m reluctant to support this motion until we know the ramifications of what we’re voting on,” Coun. Larry Samson said. “I’d like to defer until we can get a report on the fallout, the repercussions of Coun. Adams’ motion.”
But instead of deferring, council voted to provide the parks department with the $25,000 it was asking for, with councillors Samson, Adams and Mayor Walter Jakeway opposed.
Council also added a $35,000 part-time bylaw officer position to help the city’s lone officer with an increasing workload. Funds for the position will come out of general taxation.
Other items added to the 2014 budget to be funded through taxes are:
- Ishikari Reserve: $5,000 annual contribution to fund 40th anniversary sister city celebration.
- Eagle tree inventory: $2,000 for inventory and mapping of new and relocated Bald Eagle nest tree sites.
- Invasive Plant Species implementation plan: $12,500 from taxation and $7,500 from gaming in 2014 and 2015.
- Increased council travel budget: $8,800.
- Increased mayor travel budget-$2,000.
- Part-time airport office administrative position: $31,705.