The expanded G.H. Dawe Community Centre in Red Deer will become operational in 2023, so more money is needed to hire additional staff. (Advocate file photo)

The expanded G.H. Dawe Community Centre in Red Deer will become operational in 2023, so more money is needed to hire additional staff. (Advocate file photo)

Inflationary pressures contribute to higher proposed tax rate for Red Deerians in 2023, 2024

City council will discuss the budget for next two years on Nov. 28-30

Red Deer city council will discuss potentially raising taxes by 4.79 per cent in 2023 and 4.38 per cent for 2024.

This additional money is needed to deal with inflation and higher interest rates, to hire more paramedics, planning for an Indigenous cultural centre, replenish depleted municipal reserves, and other expenses, said City Manager Tara Lodewyk.

The proposed plans were presented to Red Deer city council on Monday in an overview of the 2023-2024 capital and operating budgets.

Lodewyk told councillors that department heads considered needs and cut back where they could. But the tax increases they are proposing have come in slightly higher than the numbers set by city council last March for the coming years. (Council had pegged 4.7 per cent for 2023 and 4.3 per cent for 2024).

If the proposed 4.79 and 4.38 per cent tax increases are approved later this month, it would cost the average property owner an extra $119 in 2023, or an additional $10 a month (for a property assessed at $350,000).

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston noted city council’s policy of incorporating a one per cent contribution to the future capital projects fund into every budget. When this is considered, he believes the proposed tax increase for the next two years is fairly modest — especially when considering that rising inflation and interest rates are straining the city’s ability to deliver services.

One of the biggest proposed changes on the operational side of the budget would be hiring a substantial number of extra paramedics, said Lodewyk. “Emergency Services would make up the largest portion of our staffing increase.”

Given hospital capacity issues causing shift work and overtime hours, she feels it’s important to ensure emergency staff aren’t stressed and can respond to citizen emergency calls in a timely way. Lodewyk said she had hoped some of this money would have come from the province, but it did not.

The hiring of several additional peace officers is also proposed in the budget, to assist Red Deer RCMP with crime and traffic matters. As well, city administrators are hoping to employ more human resources, roads and parks workers and the staff needed to make the expanded G.H. Dawe Recreation Central operational.

On the capital budget side, Lodewylk said there’s a focus on “maintaining what we have” — about $1-billion of infrastructure. Also proposed is “rehab” on the CP Rail Bridge, redeveloping Centennial Park downtown, dismantling the old Kinex arena, and planning Red Deer’s newest park on former Michener Centre land recently purchased from the province.

A brand new project would entail spending about $100,000 in 2023 and $150,000 in 2024 for planning an Indigenous Cultural Centre. It could be built in 2025 for about $4.5 million — but no money has yet been put into the city’s capital plan before a community vision is put forward. Lodewyk said the project would show the city’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation process.

The last few years of zero-to-minimal tax increases because of the pandemic are catching up to city finances in terms of depleting rainy-day reserves that need to be brought back to more healthy levels going forward, said Lodewyk.

Red Deer’s Chief Financial Officer Ray MacIntosh noted there are now about $21 million in this fund, compared to the optimal $65 million needed to meet a best-practice target of having three months of operational expenses in the bank.

He feels it was entirely appropriate to draw from reserves over the last decade, especially over the last few unprecedented years when the recession was followed by a global pandemic that caused hard times for many taxpayers.

Keeping the municipal taxes down over the pandemic and helping Westerner Park stay afloat were some uses for this money.

But it’s now time to start topping these reserves back up so the City of Red Deer can be in good financial shape to take on uncertainties in the future, said MacIntosh, who admitted this isn’t something that can be achieved overnight.

While people don’t like to pay more taxes, they also don’t like it when the city reduces hours for recreation facilities or transit, said Lodewyk.

Red Deer City council is set to discuss the budget from Nov. 28 to 30. Citizens are invited to weigh in on the proposed budget by checking it out on the city’s website and then emailing budget@redddeer.ca.

Red Deer City Council

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