City budget a balancing act

By Geoff Lee

November 26, 2015 12:31 PM

City Council presented its draft 2016 budget on Monday and is looking for public input by Dec. 3 when it could be approved at a special meeting of Council.

Lloydminster residents may face a property tax increase of up to 2.32 per cent if the city’s draft 2016 budget is approved at a special session of Council next Thursday.
The tax hike amounts to about $60 a year for a home assessed at $351,000 in value and will help the city to balance the budget with a projected revenue of about $83.2 million.
That’s $11.5 million less total revenue than in 2015 from all sources, including property taxes — 33 per cent — user fees at 46 per cent, government transfers accounting for 11 per cent and licences and permits (eight per cent).
User fees for city residential and commercial properties have dropped nearly $15 million during the economic downturn, with the property tax hike needed to balance the books.
The 2.32 per cent tax increase is what 500 households recommended to the city during its fall Dollars and Sense budget simulator exercise.
More budget input was provided by the Your Voice night held at Lloydminster Comprehensive High School on Nov. 3.
“I think those who have been watching and keeping track of what the city has been doing are not going to be surprised by it, but they have an opportunity to provide some feedback,” said Nicole Reiniger, the city’s director of finance.
The public can review the budget package online at www.lloydminster.ca/budget and email comments or questions to yourvoice@lloydminster.ca by Dec. 1.
Residents can also attend the special meeting at City Hall on Dec. 3 at 8 a.m. when the budget is expected to be passed after discussions.
Reiniger told the media that the downturn in the economy led by lower oil and gas prices is reflected in a small 2.14 per cent increase in total expenses for 2016.
“The team has worked really hard to be efficient in their numbers,” she said following a budget presentation at Council on Monday.
“When you are looking at salary increases of 2.75 per cent it’s been a great challenge for all us.”
City administrative costs will rise the most, a hike of more than $1.5 million in 2016 to about $8.6 million.
Reiniger added when you lose nearly $15 million in revenue you have to get creative in how you going to proceed and move forward.
She noted there was a lot of work done by a lot of people to get to this point.
“We looked at really trying to streamline operations to get to this point where we can move forward with a balanced fiscally responsible budget,” Reiniger said.
The budget includes a line by line list of prioritized capital expenses for 2016 that councillor Linnea Goodhand describes as a list of must-haves and like-to-haves if the money is available.
“From my perspective I’m not going to go through that list and cherry pick a few and say ‘tell me why,’” said Goodhand.
“I rely on the expertise of our department heads to tell me why they are important.”
The city will spend $59.5 million on capital projects in 2016, projects ranging from roads and sidewalks, to recreation facilities and waste water projects and equipment.
The city is also forecasting it will borrow up to $58 million in the 2016 fiscal year for capital works.
The top spending priority is $10 million for the first phase of construction of the North South Corridor on portions of 50 Avenue and 49 Ave.
A funding increase of three per cent to infrastructure, maintenance and public safety, a two per cent increase to recreation and parks and no increase in airport spending was recommended to council by the Dollars and Sense surveys.
That’s led to a budget decision to hire four more RCMP officers, review the city’s winter maintenance polity and reduce the airport operations budget.
Goodhand noted Lloydminster is not the only municipality struggling with reduced revenue as a result of the impact of the downturn.
“You only have to open a local paper on either side of the border to know that every municipality is struggling with it and some more so than we are,” she said.
She added that she thinks that’s a testament to the strong leadership the city’s administration is showing in their budget preparation.
“They know there is only a limited tolerance for increases in this community the way the economy is so we have to be respectful of that but we also ask the respect of the community because our expenses are going up too.”
Subdivision land development expenses however, will plummet in 2016 by more than 162 per cent from $5.3 milllion in 2015 to about $2-million from the impact of the downturn.

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