Belt-tightening is ahead for city departments as work begins on the 2017 operating and capital budgets.
By a split vote of 5-4, council approved a set of guidelines for administration to use when planning next year’s spending.
Council directed administration to achieve an overall 2.5 per cent tax rate increase which includes a one per cent growth and amenities contribution. Basically it’s a one per cent increase to the existing budgets.
Administration had recommended a no more than 3.5 per cent tax rate as a starting point but Coun. Dianne Wyntjes successfully argued to bring the number down one per cent or $1.2 million in targeted savings.
Councillors Wyntjes, Mayor Tara Veer, Tanya Handley, Buck Buchanan and Frank Wong voted in support of the guidelines.
Wyntjes said this gives a message that council is in touch with the community and is disciplined when it comes to the budgets. She said council is well aware of the tough times with job losses and layoffs in the community.
“We talk about innovation, creativity, belt-tighten and doing things differently,” said Wyntjes. “This is an opportunity for us to see what our administration can come up with some numbers …. There are a lot of unknowns but the leadership starts with us at the top and we have to give that direction.”
Councillors Paul Harris, Lawrence Lee, Ken Johnston and Lynne Mulder voted against the guidelines.
Lee said the aggressive guidelines may impact service levels and existing infrastructure projects. Other councillors were concerned it was too limiting and restrictive.
Harris said the 3.5 per cent is a good middle ground for a starting point.
City manager Craig Curtis said this will be a difficult budget because there are so many unknowns, especially the impacts of the provincial budget.
“We will be working hard to meet this target,” said Curtis. “Council has given us the opportunity to come back depending on what the provincial budget brings or any change in the economy.”
Curtis said the biggest concern is the carbon tax and whether it will apply to municipalities.
“If there is a full carbon tax it will be very, very difficult to achieve the guideline that was approved tonight,” he said. “Really everything is up to (the provincial budget) on April 14.”
There’s also questions around funding for the MSI operating and capital grants. Curtis said these three factors will determine whether administration is able to work reasonably with this guideline and what will come back to council.
If the city is subject to a carbon levy, the city would start with an eight per cent tax increase and would have to trim down to 1.5 per cent or about $7.6 million in savings.
The city will soon begin its budget consultations with the community. One new tool this year will be a budget bus that may go on the road four or five times. The details are still being sorted out.