Council weighs its options on tax increase

Director of Finance Margaret Stewart (left), city councillors Surinderpal Rathor and Sue Zacharias  go over budget line items during a special committee of the whole budget meeting Tuesday at city hall. - Monica Lamb-Yorski photo
Director of Finance Margaret Stewart (left), city councillors Surinderpal Rathor and Sue Zacharias go over budget line items during a special committee of the whole budget meeting Tuesday at city hall.
— image credit: Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

City council is looking at two tax increase scenarios — zero or three per cent.

In its budget proposal for 2014 staff said a zero increase would cover planned paving projects, but deplete the pavement management reserves.

A three per cent increase would mean one per cent toward covering some of 1.75 per cent annual inflation increases and two per cent toward pavement management reserves.

Council will begin voting on the budget next week, after a series of budget meetings come to a close.

At last Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting councillors Surinderpal Rathor and Ivan Bonnell said they preferred the zero per cent scenario. Mayor Kerry Cook, councillors Laurie Walters, Sue Zacharias and Geoff Bourdon supported a three per cent increase.

In the past Rathor has asked staff to bring a zero per cent option forward and said it will gain the trust of the taxpayers.

“We can go back and ask them for the money when we need it,” he said.

While the councillors in favour of the three per cent said it was all about long-term planning and having money put away for major projects.

“We were able to do that with South Lakeside,” Zacharias said.

Paving projects earmarked for the future include a complete rehabilitation of Borland Street, the proposed pedestrian underpass connecting the river valley trail to the Stampede Grounds, and road improvements on Pigeon Avenue.

Tenders have gone out for the underpass project which could cost up anywhere from $700,000 to  $1.1 million, chief administrative officer Darrell Garceau said.

Staff won’t know until all the tenders come in, however, funds held in trust from a community recreation provincial grant totalling $550,600 for the project and money from the gas tax funding would pay for the project.

In a previous meeting, some council members asked staff to see if the funds for the underpass could be reallocated, for example to the Highway 97 and Toop Road Intersection upgrade.

Garceau said the grant stipulated the project be completed by March 31, 2015 or the money may have to be returned.

Rathor said he’d hate to see the money sent back, while Walters said she wanted to see the pedestrian underpass project proceed at the River Valley.

Fire chief Des Webster told council the city needs a new pumper truck, but it will not need to come out of the 2014 budget because it will take a year to be manufactured and can be paid for on delivery.

A new truck will cost about $550,000 so council will have to approve the ordering going forward and determine later if it should be leased over five years or paid for in full.

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