Revenue sharing could be on the chopping block


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January 15, 2015 9:00 AM

SUMA president Debra Button - Photo Supplied

A few comments from Premier Brad Wall have sent the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) and the opposition scrambling to understand what exactly he means.

In an interview with the Regina Leader Post, Wall said, “In a budget that is very tight – with revenues flat, if not decreasing – we have to look at all the options.

“That would include looking at the spirit and the principle of sharing own-source revenues with municipalities like we had intended and, perhaps, sitting down with municipalities to try to find what that adjustment might be.”

In 2014-15, this PST-funded effort divvied up $257 million among Saskatchewan municipalities. Lloydminster’s share of that money was just over $2 million.

Saskatchewan NDP Deputy Leader Trent Wotherspoon said in an interview with the Lloydminster Source that the idea of taking revenue sharing off the table is not a smart move.

“We are really disappointed at the premier, who is going against his word and short change the municipalities,” he said.

“This is a decision by the premier to hike the property tax bills for Saskatchewan families.”

He added some families will not be able to afford the potential hike.

“This speaks to the fact that this premier doesn’t understand the (struggles) that Saskatchewan families are facing right now,” he said.

“And the fact that he can think that he can waste millions, and then ask the people of Saskatchewan to pay for his mistakes ... is simply wrong.”

Looking at the perspective of the municipalities in Saskatchewan, Wotherspoon said that it’s really unfortunate for them during budgeting months to have the premier say something like this.

Mayor Debra Button, of Weyburn, who is also the president of SUMA, said that the comments made by the premier are concerning for municipalities across the province.

“The partnership between the municipalities and the province is like a marriage, we ride up and down as the economy goes. And you can’t ask for a pre-nup after the wedding has happened,” she said.

Button said that if all the money is off the table, municipalities like Lloydminster and Weyburn will have to turn to their residents for another source of revenue.

“There are only two ways to manage the cut, and I’ve been telling this to my residents here in Weyburn – either cut services and municipalities are running pretty lean machines as it is. So that leaves us with one other option, going to the people we represent and say, ‘We can’t do it without an increase.’ One way or another, the property tax is the only means.”

Here in the Border City, the budget was passed with a 10.4 per cent increase to taxes. That could be increased if the revenue sharing is removed completely.

Lloydminster Mayor Rob Saunders wouldn’t comment on the what the premier said only saying that the revenue that the province shares with the municipalities goes a long way.

“The City of Lloydminster is appreciative of the current formula that is in place with the province of Saskatchewan,” Saunders said.

“The revenue sharing is well used.”

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