Council approves 10.4 per cent tax increase

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December 18, 2014 9:00 AM

Lloydminster city council approved a potential 10.4 per cent increase to property taxes next year. While not officially finalized, council is expected to reopen the debate in early 2015, when the provincial assessment comes in. - Christopher W. Brown Photo

If the numbers are correct, and the estimates are what council anticipates, taxpayers in the Border City could see a potential property tax hike of 10.4 per cent in 2015.

Council debated the 2015 operations and capital budgets Monday night, where a proposed 10.4 per cent hike in residential taxes could be on the table if assessments come back at the five per cent from the provincial government.

The assessment of five per cent is based on the market value of properties in both provinces.

What that increase will look like at the end of the year in 2015 will be a potential $250 per average household, according to Nicole Reiniger, director of finance.

“It’s difficult to come up with an average number on a home in Lloydminster, because everyone is impacted differently,” she said.

“But the average could be around the $250 mark, but that would be on the high side,” she said.

“Depending on if you have a small home and it’s only worth $150,000, you may only see under a $100 increase.”

Lloydminster Mayor Rob Saunders said that the proposed 10.4 per cent increase, while not perfect, is a starting point for the city to look at costs heading into next year.

“We are able to arrive at a proposed capital budget and a proposed operating budget. When you look at the proposed increases of last year, we are looking at instead of a $68 million capital budget, we are looking at a $52-53 million capital budget. On the operating side, there is an increase from $79 million to $81 million,” Saunders said of the costs. “We are all pleased that we worked through the process in the growth times, and when you have large capital cost expenditures decisions in your infrastructure and core services decisions.”

Saunders said that he was quite pleased with the results of Monday night’s council meeting.

That doesn’t mean the double-digit tax hike could be seen next year, Saunders said that council will reassess the increase when the final numbers come in from the assessments from the provinces.

“We will revisit when we get the final assessment, so we are reasonable with our ask.”

When asked if council was right, in assessing the government at a five per cent, Saunders said that administration has been reasonable in projecting the average.

“If you look at the growth in our city and the permits and the development that has been going on in the city, we should be in a reasonable position to make some adjustments in the future,” he said.

City Coun. Ken Baker, who was a major opponent of the proposed increase to taxpayers, said that part of the council mandate is to serve all people in the community.

“Some people in the community might be able to afford a 10 per cent increase, but many can’t,” Baker said. “I think that we have to find a balance because that is our responsibility as a council.”

Throughout the meeting, Baker was against the proposed assessment of five per cent assessment from the provinces, and said that council would be back in another budget chat when the exact number came out from the provinces at the end of January.

At one point Baker said that he had a ‘moral and lawful’ right to know what he is voting on, before he could move forward on the budget talks.

“I just want to know what the real numbers are and I think that we have a responsibility as a council,” he said. “We don’t download on administration, and we have a responsibility because that is what we were elected to do. We also need to know the facts.”

Baker said once council gets the real facts then they would be able to make a better informed decision.

Asked why he continued to vote on budget items, without knowing all the facts, Baker said, “Council agreed to review all information once the proper assessment is released by the provincial governments.”

City Coun. Larry Sauer said that the city should wait before jumping to the conclusion that taxes would be increasing by 10.4 per cent next year.

“Now we have to wait for the assessment, and then we will revisit the budget and make revisions on whether or not we feel that rate increase is too much, or if it’s something that we could live with,” he said.

Asked if he could live with the 10.4 per cent increase, Sauer said, “At this point, I would feel that would be too much.”

City Coun. Jason Whiting said that the increase shows the demand that the city has to keep pace with growth over the next year.

“We are trying our best to accommodate for that growth, but unfortunately their will be increases in taxes,” he said. “When the actual mill rate and the assessment comes out, we will be investigating what actual increase will be in place.”

City Coun. Linnea Goodhand said that while the first round of budget talks are over, there is still more to be done.

“It is a work in process. We have to assess all the asks out there from a capital and an operations standpoint,” the councillor said. “Then we have to figure out what our taxpayers tolerance is to fund those projects.”

Goodhand said that the process has been challenging.

“There has been a lot of give and take, it’s a lot of trying to figure out what we have to have versus what we need to have,” she said. “What’s more important: a library or a pool, or an improved road? I don’t think there is any preconceived idea of what the priorities are.”

The city released a survey, in which just over 1,000 responded to, and Saunders said that every councillor looked at the results before coming into council chambers for the budget meeting.

“It gives the public and taxpayers a chance for input into the budgeting process and we are pleased that we did get the feedback that we did, and we hope to improve on that, and continue on with that input as well.”

Glenn Carol, the chief administration officer with the City of Lloydminster, said that the budget meeting held on Monday, was the one and only official meeting for public to have input.

“We encouraged residents to phone in at any time through the budget engagement process, which gave residents the opportunity to voice their thoughts around the budget,” he said.

The provincial assessment is expected to be announced early in 2015, if the assessment comes back higher than the five per cent set by the city’s finance department, then the taxes could go down, if it’s lower then that threshold of 10.4 per cent could balloon.

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