Red Deer’s business community is divided over whether the 2.02 per cent tax increase needed to cover the city’s 2018 operating budget could have been lower.
Red Deer spends too much, compared to other Alberta communities, said Reg Warkentin, policy and advocacy manager for the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce.
In a Spending Watch report by the Canadian Federation of Independent businesses, Red Deer is shown to have spent $1,808 per capita in 2015 — well above Medicine Hat ($1,396) and Grande Prairie ($1,650), but a little below Lethbridge ($1,834) as well as Edmonton ($2,119) and Calgary ($1,955).
While Warkentin wasn’t surprised by the 2.02 per cent tax increase passed last week, he was hoping the city would find further “efficiencies” to keep spending in line with a zero per cent tax increase.
He believes city managers should have looked into out-sourcing, public-private partnerships, and finding different ways to do things like training — so two administrative salaries don’t have to be paid while a new hire job-shadows the out-going manager.
“You can make meaningful cuts in spending without making cuts in services, Warkentin maintains.
But other business leaders believe city council did its best to keep spending down while still giving Red Deerians the amenities they expect.
“Tax increases happen whether the community wants them or not,” said Amanda Gould, executive-director of the Red Deer Downtown Business Association. Since some of the new money will cover the additional cost of 10 more police officers and some 2019 Canada Winter Games costs, she believes it will be well spent.
When downtown parking rates rise by 25 per cent in July, Gould hopes fewer cars will be parked all day along Ross and Little Gaetz. If people want to stay downtown a little longer, “maybe they will move back a street or two back,” where meter costs are less, she added.
Former city councillor Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer, who owns Comforts the Sole, said “I don’t like things going up,” but everything goes up, including taxes and the cost of the products retailers sell.
She’s pleased about the 10 additional officers — and so is the Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, as well as business owner Mirwais Baray, of King Donair and Shawarma.
With taxes rising, Baray hopes business will also improve soon. Although he’s not sure more costly parking will help, he said, “we do need more police.”