Minimum tax hike in 2016

By Geoff Lee

December 8, 2015 12:06 PM

Lloydminster taxpayers received an early Christmas present from the city with a lower than expected property tax increase in the 2016 budget.
Council cut its proposed tax increase of 2.32 per cent by more than half a per cent to 1.8 per cent when it approved the budget at a special meeting of council Thursday.
The revised increase will cost homeowners an average of $3 more per month.
“It’s a great way to start the Christmas season,” said the city’s finance director, Nicole Reiniger.
“Today what we approved was a total revenue number that we needed to generate through property taxes.”
Reiniger also commented on how the tax increase might affect 2016 assessments in response to concerns, expressed by Coun. Ken Baker during budget discussions.
“In January, we’ll get new assessment numbers and then we’ll know how to equitably distribute that revenue fund needed — tax support from the community based on a mill rate,” she said.
The tax rate reduction followed an amendment to freeze the salaries of Mayor Rob Saunders and council for a savings of about $45,000 next year.
“I think what we witnessed today is very genuine concern from our administration and all our directors and management at city council and myself understanding there is an economy that’s affecting everyone and taking that into consideration,” said Saunders. “There were different areas that we felt we were being as prudent and fiscally responsible as possible.”
The 2016 budget is based on estimated total revenue of approximately $83 million.
The city plans to spend up to $1.97 million in 2016 for winter road maintenance and fund four additional RCMP officers contingent on provincial grant funding.
The 2016 budget also allocates $59.9 million for capital projects, including transportation, utilities, land development and community facilities.
Saunders noted the budget process began in August with an eye to keeping costs to 2015 levels where possible.
“We witnessed some diligent work to try to keep costs as low as possible and to reduce increases in a lot of different areas,” he said.
The salaries of all non-unionized employees will be frozen with no pay increases in 2016, but unionized employees will see a 2.75 wage increase from their collective agreement.
The budget also includes a list of all prioritized capital expenditures in 2016 that caught the ire of Coun. Baker during discussion period.
Baker made a case to revisit the list with an eye to further cuts noting the impact of the economy on some residents.
“A lot of people are struggling,” he said.
“There’s been layoffs (and) sometimes we can’t have everything we want if it falls on the back of the taxpayer,” he explained.
Baker was not happy with the 1.8 per cent tax increase for the same economic reason.
“I would have preferred zero percentage or less, but council decided and we debated it and we live with council decision,” he said.
Coun. Larry Sauer argued in discussion period for a tax increase less than 2.32 per cent, but at least 1.4 per cent or higher to keep ahead of the consumer price index of our two bordering provinces.
He called the 1.8 per cent tax hike fair to the city’s administration and residents.
“Nobody likes tax increases, but at the same time we need to respect the administration has done a lot of good,” said Coun. Jason Whiting, who noted the administration is doing the best it can to afford the city with the growth and the infrastructure demands that are needed.
The 2016 budget also reflects ta reduction of $11.5 million in revenue from land sales, user fees and goods, but Whiting said the demand for new facilities is as strong as ever.
“There is a desire for a new swimming pool, a new museum a new arena even. All sorts of different facilities are wanted, unfortunately we can’t pay for all of them,” he said.
Whiting was also one of several councillors against any grant increase to the Lloydminster Facilities Corporation that runs the golf and curling centre.
The centre reported a deficit of about $98,000 in 2015. “To put the onus on the taxpayer to foot the bill for the makeup of the revenue we don’t get from that place – I don’t think it’s responsible,” said Whiting.
Council also chose to cut a requested grant of $150,000 for the operation of the Lloydminster Golf and Curling club by $94,000 to the previous 2015 grant of $56,000.
Those facilities however will get $79,900 for capital purchases up from $75,900 from 2015.
Coun. Leanna Goodhand said she too favoured rolling back the grant request by $94,000 to the 2015 level of $56,000.
She said it was hard to to sell to the taxpayers they should be subsidizing players’ golf and curling fees through property taxes.
“I think that’s a very difficult message to communicate. I’m not prepared to communicate it because it’s not defensible.”
The grant hike request was made by director of public works, Alan Cayford, who opined if you don’t ask for a increase, you won’t get one.
“We will do everything in our power to operate the golf course at the same level as we operated in the summer of 2015,” he said.
“That’s our intention and we’ll get it figured out,” he said.

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