Red Deer city council approved a $330.6 million operating budget that calls for a 3.77 per cent tax rate increase following seven days of number crunching and debate on Wednesday.
The increase means the average $325,000 homeowner will pay $1,930.29, up $70.13 from 2014, on the municipal portion of the annual property bill.
The actual tax rate will be set later this spring after it is combined with the provincial education tax rate.
Mayor Tara Veer called this year’s spending plan “highly responsive to public feedback and priorities around core service.”
She said the budget has the most cost savings and efficiencies in the base budget in her 11 years on council.
Corporate Services director Paul Goranson gave a broad overview of the cost savings and efficiencies happening across the city early in the budget talks for the first time.
“We often hear from the public keep the operational increases in line with the cost of living,” said Veer. “I can genuinely say our administration has endeavored to do that.”
Included in this year’s budget is the introduction of a new capital savings investment plan. Council voted to put aside one per cent of the tax revenue base every year with opportunities to review it for the next three years.
“We are planning for a future in a way that is measured and that can always be revisited when it is necessary in order to respond to our changing community or changing economic climate,” said Veer.
Most councillors were pleased to have a plan in place after hearing from the community about the city’s lack of amenities compared to other municipalities. Last year
Coun. Paul Harris unsuccessfully tried to convince council to put aside $2 million into a capital reserve fund.
Council started the budget process with a proposed 4.31 per cent increase. But after finding savings in diesel prices and adjusting the fine revenue calculation over two years, the number was reduced.
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said she was happy the rate came in under four per cent. She said council made some revisions that did not result in service cuts which was important to her.
The theme of the budget was maintaining and enhancing core services which council said was evident throughout with the focus on service and growth.
Harris said the budget is aligned with the strategic direction which is about dialogue with community and community amenities and establishing financial sustainability.
Coun. Tanya Handley said she would have liked to see the cost savings outlined by Goranson “quantified” in a way that the public knew what was happening behind the scenes.
Some of the big ticket items included a boost to policing and firemedic staffing, expanded Action Bus service, catch up on road work, new weekend hours for Animal Control Services and support for Central Alberta 211 Services.
Coun. Lynne Mulder said she was also pleased that smaller ticket items like helping out the Medicine River Wildlife Centre, the city’s promotional video and Fort Normandeau made the cut in this year’s budget.
City Manager Craig Curtis said there was more public participation and survey this year than in recent years. He deemed it a “budget for the times.”
“We built a lot of cost savings into this budget rather than identifying them separately,” said Curtis. “Also there’s a number of things that we do during the year that we never really reported on during the budget. We make savings and take them for granted … There was at least $1.5 million built into the budget but it is probably a great deal more.”
This year Red Deer set one of the lowest rates compared to other Alberta cities such as Grande Prairie (3.79 per cent); Medicine Hat (4.8 per cent); Calgary (4.5 per cent) and Edmonton (5.7 per cent). Lethbridge set its rate at 3.2 per cent.
The $173.3 million capital budget for 2015 was approved in November, compared to $199.5 million in 2014 and $107.5 million in 2013.
Some budget highlights:
10 new fire medics – $807,165
Six new police officers, three new municipal staff – $559,650
New neighbourbood parks landscaping – $260,623
Emergency Services Master Plan – $200,000
Value for money audit – $200,000
Red Deer Airport – $185,000
Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre – $143,000
Ross Street Patio (with limited programming) – $80,000
Animal Control Services expanded weekends and evenings – $75,000
Central Alberta 211 Service – $67,500
City promotional video – $50,000
Action Bus expanded service on weekends and evenings – $49,318
Fee for service grants for cultural groups – $47,730
Corporate Service Program development and support – $40,000
Medicine River Wildlife Centre – $25,000