A spare but “equitable” budget of $364 million, with a focus on public safety and a 2.02 per cent tax increase, was approved Friday by Red Deer city council.
Highlights include: the hiring of 10 police officers, funds for cleaning up drug and rough sleeper debris in the city, more parks investment and items related to the 2019 the Canada Winter Games.
Recreation drop-in fees were frozen, although parking fees went up, and most service levels were maintained, including transit and snow clearing.
Mayor Tara Veer said council knew going into the two-week process that it would be tough to pass a budget with only a two per cent tax increase — which was council’s goal in this economically challenged time.
After nearly a line-by-line discussion of proposed expenses and cost-savings, Veer was pleased council and administration managed to achieved a 2.02 per cent increase — especially since some of that automatically goes to paying the provincial carbon tax (0.11 per cent).
The rest of the increase is pegged for future capital needs savings (1 per cent) and on-going operating expenses that including inflation (0.91 per cent).
Property owners with a home valued at $325,000 and an average assessed value change in 2018, will pay about $42.55 more a year on the municipal portion of their taxes.
Although nobody likes seeing taxes go up, Veer said council did it’s best to rein in spending, while still providing the service levels people expect — including more RCMP officers to reduce the crime rate. “I believe the budget approved today respects the economic and social reality facing our community and citizens, while still positioning our city for the future.”
City Manager Craig Curtis feels citizens will find the budget continues to provide “good value for each tax dollar.”
Council achieved about $8.1 million in corporate cost savings, revenues, and efficiencies. These includes a two per cent reduction ($243,000) from departmental budgets, as well as many other items.
More last-minute cost-savings were proposed on Friday when councillors Tanya Handley and Frank Wong both suggested putting less than one per cent into the future capital savings fund. But the majority of councillors didn’t support this, citing the importance of building up a city fund so less debt would be required for future building projects.
Coun. Lawrence Lee had tried in vain to achieve additional cost savings by proposing slight service reductions in recreation and transit, which weren’t approved by most of council. But he finally achieved a $15,000 saving when his proposal to reduce holiday hours at the Collicutt and the G.H. Dawe Centres to noon to 5 p.m. was accepted. (The previous hours were 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
“I think this budget considers the economy while still meeting acceptable service levels,” said Lee.
Coun. Ken Johnston called it “vibrant, sustainable and equitable, while a fraction over what we said.”
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes was among many on council who commended administrators for their hard work. “Hours were spent going over difficult recommendations… we did a tough job and I’m sure we will continue to do a tough job.”