Painting a somewhat doom and gloom picture, city administration dropped its “moderate” $341.9-million operating budget on Thursday.
The budget comes with a recommended 3.78 per cent tax increase in the municipal portion of a property tax bill. That means the owner of a residential home assessed at $325,000 will pay $6.06 per month more on their total property tax bill or $72.72 annually. This brings the bill to roughly $2,775 from $2,703.38 in 2015.
City manager Craig Curtis called it a responsible budget with no major cuts but some adjustments in services.
“We’re saying this is the worst possible time to do Draconian solutions,” said Curtis. “We saw in the 1990s when we cut back in city maintenance and we do not want to repeat that mistake.”
Curtis said the city took an unexpected $455,000 hit when it learned last week the taxes in lieu program for social housing was eliminated by the province.
Despite the provincial downloads and the low Canadian dollar, Curtis said they tried to develop a responsible budget that kept the services that Red Deerians take pride in while maintaining roads and facilities to the standard.
He said they are not doing anything dramatic with this budget but will wait to see what new provincial projects, such as the carbon tax, will mean to the municipality.
Curtis said there are always ups and downs in the province and in every case they have pulled out of it.
“What we need to do is maintain some stability in the city without basically creating a tax increase that causes major problems for our tax payer,” said Curtis. “Now some people will say they would like an expansion of service here or there. Others will say we want taxes lower. What we have done is present something that is moderate.”
The proposed 3.78 per cent tax increase includes a 2.41 per cent operational increase, one per cent for the city’s capital savings plan and a 0.37 per cent tax download from the province.
Starting on Jan. 6, council will debate the proposed spending for 2016 over several days.
Mayor Tara Veer said the great challenge this year is the deeper recession the city found itself in 2008. She said the city has to show financial leadership and be responsive to the needs of the community.
“Our challenge is to neither overreact nor underreact,” said Veer. “We have been committed to trying to bring stability as much as we can. I don’t think anyone likes tax increases but what we have endeavored over the past two or three years is to bring stability in order to (avoid) tax spikes. We don’t want to incur an infrastructure or service level deficit by gutting operations but we don’t want to impose tax spikes on our citizens.”
Veer said at first glance there does not seem to be service level cuts but savings in the areas of operational efficiencies.
In November, council adopted a $160.5 million capital budget.
The public is invited to provide feedback on the budget by 4:30 p.m. on Dec.23. The budget binder is available at City Hall, Collicutt Centre, Recreation Centre, Red Deer Public Library’s downtown, Timberlands and G.H.Dawe Community Centre branches. Feedback can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or in writing at the above locations.