Snow, core services expected to dominate debate

Snow removal is expected to spark lively debate when Red Deer city council takes a fine-tooth comb to the 2014 operating budget this week.

Snow removal is expected to spark lively debate when Red Deer city council takes a fine-tooth comb to the 2014 operating budget this week.

Starting today, city council will begin reviewing the administration-recommended $302.6-million budget that comes with a projected 3.8 per cent property tax hike.

If the budget is approved without any changes, annual taxes on a $301,100 home would rise $66.12 to $1,896, compared to $1,830 in 2013. The monthly increase would be $5.51.

Mayor Tara Veer said council has heard from the public that they want the city to improve its core services, find savings and invest in areas such as policing, residential snow clearing and the city’s snow and ice control policy.

Veer said she hopes council will resolve those areas in the policy around the average snowfall events and residential snow clearing.

“I hope we look at it from two perspectives,” said Veer. “One from average snow event and one in terms of our plans in an emergency basis. I think we have a couple of key areas to respond to public concerns. But I also do not want us to have a knee-jerk reaction to what has been an extreme snow event so we are over-collecting on taxes for an average year as well.”

Veer said the budget reflects savings in areas through cuts in conference travel, consultant fees and by not filling vacant staff positions. Veer hopes when councillors review the budget, they will consider city surveys, what they heard on the campaign trail and the practical realities of funding shortfalls.

City chief financial officer Dean Krejci said the tax increase is in line with previous years. Last year, taxpayers received a 4.28 per cent increase on their bills.

Krejci said there was more revenue generation, mostly on the tax supported side, that helped offset tax increases rather than belt tightening.

“Based on the snow and ice issue that we are facing, I would hazard to guess it (the projected 3.8 per cent tax hike) would increase,” said Krejci.

He would not give an idea of the increase or impact.

Some key ongoing initiatives in the budget include the RCMP fee agreement, police officer and municipal employee staffing and the corporate fleet of vehicles.

The budget also reflects initiatives approved in 2013 but not fully funded in the 2013 budget.

Taxpayers won’t know the final percentage increase until the educational portion of the taxes comes in the spring, as dictated by the provincial government.

The city’s $102.7-million capital budget was approved in November.

Here is the 2014 operating budget schedule (meetings get underway at 1 p.m. each day in City Hall chambers):

Tuesday: Budget talks kick off with an overview by the city manager and chief financial officer. Council will then receive an update on the city’s charters and a presentation from the Corporate Services Department.

Wednesday: Presentations from the Development Services, Planning Services, Community Services and City Manager’s departments.

Thursday: Operating debate is expected to begin. Debate is scheduled until Jan. 15, if needed.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com

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