Red Deerians will pay on average 4.28 per cent more in property taxes in 2013 following five days of operating budget deliberations by city council.
The increase amounts to $5.92 a month or $71.02 a year on a home assessed at $285,000.
City council adopted the $288.5-million operating budget on Friday afternoon by a vote of 8-1. Coun. Chris Stephan was opposed.
Councillors described the budget as responsible and balanced with an investment in core services.
One of the major additions and surprises to this year’s operating budget involves adding 18 more policing positions.
Council approved four new police officers and two municipal employees to start this year and four officers, four supervisors and four municipal employees pending the upcoming service level review.
The policing changes add an extra $888,375 to the 2013 operating budget and another $1.25 million to the 2014 budget.
City administration recommended phasing in officers and staff over time and subject to the upcoming police service standards report.
“Quite frankly it surprised me council was prepared to make that investment in safety in our community,” said Mayor Morris Flewwelling.
“I think it is totally appropriate but I just wasn’t sure they had the appetite to go that far in terms of the cost. And it set much of the cost over to next year. But I think council did the right thing.”
Flewwelling said there is support in the community for increasing the number of staff working for the police department, visible police officers on the street and officers or somebody responding to their concerns.
“The level of satisfaction has just not quite been there” said Flewwelling.
“I think this will serve with the combination of municipal employees and RCMP trained officers, we’ll have a little better response.”
Stephan said council made the right decision pushing forward to enhance public safety but he did not support the 2013 operating budget because of the base budget increases impacted by the unions settlements. Stephan said he does not believe the settlements with the unions have been fair to the taxpayers and this is something they need to do better moving forward. Stephan also was concerned about the impact of carry forward items from past budgets that are meant as one time funding.
“They do have an implication on future years,” said Stephan. “Even in this budget we are pushing some of the financial burdens not only to taxpayers but to the next council. I think that is one thing I would like us to do better. For example, one area I look at is policing. (I think) it is to take some of the hit this year rather than pushing some of that to taxpayers next year. Also so we can expedite getting those resources in place.”
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said the budget reflects the priorities set out in the strategic direction and those priorities heard from the community.
“This was a budget of maintaining our core services and responding to our city’s growth,” she said. “There was an additional of two safety code officers.
“We are a city growing in terms of construction growth. Those positions were vacant. I think it’s important we’re filling those.”
This budget allows for the hiring of Riverlands project manager, expansion of transit into Timberlands, implementation of the Environmental Master Plan, various downtown initiatives and other projects.
Wyntjes said she looks forward to the mid-year budget review in August to check in whether there are adequate resources in place.
Red Deer utility users could also pay more for their water, wastewater, garbage, recycling and power if council gives approval to a new utility bylaw. The majority of the Electric Light and Power rate increase are driven by the provincial transmission costs. Coun. Tara Veer said this was one of the most cautious budgets that focused on key areas that the public wanted but she has some reservations.
“I am concerned about the tax and utility rate impact on our community and as council moves forward in 2013, council must develop sound financial policies that will impact future budgets,” said Veer.
Coun. Cindy Jefferies said the budget responds to some of the concerns heard in the community and gives the city flexibility to respond to the economy.
“I have some concerns that our overall buying power is shrinking as our costs escalate and rise,” said Jefferies, adding this was the best budget she has worked on in her nine years on council. “While we’re not increasing some of those budget lines, we’re actually reducing our capacity to provide service. I am not sure that is a sustainable practice over time.”
Coun. Lynne Mulder was pleased funding directed to the implementation of the Environmental Master Plan was given the green light. She said often council has a history of making plans and putting them on a shelf.
“We are holding feet to fire to make sure we accomplish that. I think it was council gave it due consideration,” said Mulder. “I think in the end we made giants steps. Although I would like tax increase to be below 4 per cent, we’re not too far over.”
The final tally for property taxes won’t be known until the province announces the school tax levy in the spring.