Red Deer property tax increase down to 2.15 per cent as budget discussions continue

It’s not quite a hiring freeze, but Red Deer city council was stingy on new positions as operational budget debate entered its sixth day.

Two positions came up for debate Tuesday afternoon with one new position approved, while another was denied in a split vote.

During the budget debate’s daily session, council found some minimal cost-savings. It dropped the property tax increase to 2.14 per cent, from 2.15 per cent after the fifth day.

A request for a new laboratory technician at the water treatment plant was approved, as city manager Craig Curtis said it was important for maintaining the city’s safe drinking water. He cited the Walkerton Tragedy in Ontario, which left seven people dead from an E. Coli outbreak in 2000.

“I say without hesitation, this is an absolute necessity,” Curtis said.

Coun. Tanya Handley has said throughout the budget process it is not the right time for the city to add new positions due to a sluggish economy. However, she said this was an important position and supported the new hire.

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City administration noted part of the reason for adding a new lab technician was to improve turn-around for testing. Specifically for boil-water advisories. Some times the city had to out-source the testing and that meant it took up to 48 hours for the testing to be complete.

The new position approved by council costs the city $92,475.

But, she along with councillors Lawrence Lee, Buck Buchanan and Frank Wong voted against adding a waste diversion specialist later on in the debate.

They all said it wasn’t the right time to add the position, with Wong using the term “hiring freeze.”

Due to the absence of councillor Ken Johnston, it ended in a tie vote, which defeated the request. The move saved the city $94,606.

In other discussions: More than $1.2 million in cost savings was approved by city council on recommendation from staff. Different efficiencies were found ranging from $206,000 in insurance premium cost savings to reducing the number of emergency services vehicles responding to less serious calls, which saved $11,800.

Lee wanted to include a measure to save $100,000 by increasing the hazard threshold for sidewalk repair. The current standard is for repairs to be scheduled if the sidewalk is displaced by 25 mm (one inch). By increasing the standard to 40 mm (1.5 inches), it would save the city $100,000.

Council voted to maintain the standard and spend the $100,000 as mayor Tara Veer cited a commitment to avoid an infrastructure deficit and Handley talked about the concerns for those who have mobility issues.

“A half inch isn’t an issue for an able-bodied, but for someone in a wheelchair or with mobility issues it makes a difference,” said Handley.

mcrawford@bprda.wpengine.com

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