City budget gets thumbs up from Chamber

City council’s budget was right for our economic times, says the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce.

City council’s budget was right for our economic times, says the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce.

“With the economy how it is, with the low dollar and people paying more for groceries, a big tax increase was the last thing that most people needed,” said Reg Warkentin, chamber policy co-ordinator.

“It was really good to see the progress council made in getting that rate lower.

“I think they did a great job at finding those savings.”

Council spent more than six days crunching budget numbers before settling on a 2.9 per cent increase, whittled down from almost 3.8 per cent at one point.

The tax rate increase means the owner of a $325,000 home would pay $1,985.97 in municipal taxes, up $55.97 from last year’s bill.

Warkentin said the chamber was encouraged that the city kept tax increases relatively low without sacrificing continuing investment in the city.

“We need to continue to invest and make sure Red Deer is a place where people want to live and people want to work and businesses want to set up shop.”

Previous city councils have kept the tax rates competitive with other municipalities. Those rates are determined in the spring (when the school tax requisition is known) and the chamber hopes to see that trend continue.

“Generally speaking we want to see any increase in government spending closely correlated to population growth and inflation. From what I’m seeing this budget looks like it’s right in line with that target.”

Red Deer Public Library felt the impact of some of council’s tough budget decisions.

Only three of the library’s six requests were approved. A $108,000 request to help pay for more staff hours at the Timberlands branch, $90,000 for a new information technology specialist and a $50,000 publicity campaign didn’t make the cut.

Library CEO Christina Wilson said while she’s disappointed not everything made the cut, what council did approve is important to the library.

Council approved a staff wage boost totalling $101,250, and $20,000 for safety training and security to help staff respond safely to some of the disruptive visitors the downtown branch sometimes faces.

A small but important request to boost by $10,000 the money the library puts towards online resources was also approved.

“That’s a very significant thing for us,” said Wilson. “It’s important because the way are collecting is shifting is towards more and more online resources.”

The library was facing a “double whammy” because higher rates kicked in for some online resources based on per capita when the city’s population topped 100,000. As well, since many providers are U.S.-based, the sinking Canadian dollar means higher costs for the library to maintain what they have.

“This is very timely money for us, and the great thing is it is ongoing.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.coma

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