Jon MacLean runs along the trail system in Red Deer Saturday with his dog named Boon. In recent budget deliberations Red Deer City Council has decided to continue plowing snow from 24 km. of trails in the Waskasoo Park system at a cost of $37,000. (Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

City council passes budget

Red Deer residents to see tax bills go up by 1.52 per cent.

Red Deer city council passed a 1.52 per cent tax increase on Friday that will add about $30 to the typical bill.

Nine days of budget deliberations saw a proposed 2.51 per cent tax increase whittled down by council, going through financial spreadsheets almost line-by-line. That was itself reduced from 3.5 per cent presented by staff earlier last year.

Mayor Tara Veer called it a “budget like no other.”

Council had to wrestle with the local economic aftershocks of a provincial economy hammered by low oil prices and a new carbon tax that added $280,000 to the city’s bottom line.

Despite those challenges, council was able to freeze transit and recreation fees as well as put $1 million away to fund future capital projects in a $356 million budget.

Veer said council led by example in freezing its own salaries and that of the city manager.

“I think we’ve done the best we can given the extenuating circumstances that we find ourselves in.”

Using a $325,000 typical home, the municipal tax bill will go up by $30.96 this year. The total tax bill that will arrive in the mail in the spring will also include school taxes and requisitions for the Piper Creek Foundation.

Councillors were united in their view that they put together the best budget possible given the challenges.

“This past year has been an extraordinary year,” said Coun. Frank Wong.

Council had to make the numbers fit for a city that lost population, saw development slow and its transit ridership and recreational user numbers decline.

“To combat that we made some drastic actions,” he said.

Coun. Paul Harris called the budget a “win for everybody in our community.”

It was an intense two weeks around the budget table, said Coun. Lynne Mulder.

“I hope the public noticed that we didn’t take anything for granted,” she said.

By creating a new protective services division at city hall, council addressed the community’s biggest concern — crime.

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said council “met the challenges of controlling spending while continuing the vision.”

The budget will go down as the “toughest ever” for council, suggested Coun. Tanya Handley. It was created in the context of a province where 100,000 have had to turn to employment insurance.

Handley stressed that only 0.43 per cent of the budget increase was due to increases in operational costs, which were kept well below inflation. The carbon tax and some electricity costs added 0.3 per cent and the transfer to a capital fund made up 0.79 per cent.

Coun. Buck Buchanan said council put the budget under a microscope to find new ways of saving money.

“We looked at trying to do things a lot differently.”

Over the course of deliberations that began last Tuesday, council spent 46 hours in budget talks, and it was hard work, said Coun. Lawrence Lee.

“If anyone had any doubt whether this city council had earned their keep I’d invite them to sit in on our discussions …”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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