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City proposes 7.47 per cent property tax hike in 2023 draft budget

After being sworn-in on Monday evening, it was time for the new council to get down to work on the city’s financial picture.
A 7.47 per cent property tax hike and $152.8 million in spending are what’s contained in the draft budget for 2023, which was released on Monday at city hall. NNSL file photo

After being sworn-in on Monday evening, it was time for the new council to get down to work on the city’s financial picture.

The Governance and Priorities Committee, which includes all nine members of council, started analyzing the draft budget for 2023, which was presented by Sharolyn Woodward, the city’s director of corporate services.

According to the proposed budget, planned spending is a little more than $152.8 million, around $30 million more than the 2022 outflow of around $122.8 million. The budget has more than tripled since 2006, the oldest published budget at the city’s website. The budget was around $42 million at that time.

Broken down, this year’s budget targets around $67.9 million for capital projects, $34.4 million for salaries and benefits, $28.3 million in operations and management, and amortization costs of $15.2 million.

The municipality expects to take in just shy of $112 million: $36.8 million from property taxes, $45.1 million from government grants, $26.9 million from user fees, and roughly $2 million from land sales. There’s also around $1.2 million in investment income expected.

Woodward explained that it looks like a huge shortfall — the city is required to balance the books each year — but it’s not as bad as it seems.

“When amortization and debt repayment are considered, along with the recommended use of money from a couple of funds, the difference is really only $420,000,” she said.

Woodward also noted that the population has remained around the same and there will be next to no natural growth in tax revenue. She also said that a lot of capital projects were impacted by rising costs for materials, along with delivery delays and labour shortages.

So where exactly is the proposed money being spent? A large portion is planned for the new aquatic centre. More than $43 million has been budgeted for that project this year, making it the single-largest expense in the document. Close to $4.5 million has been earmarked for renovations at the fire hall, along with nearly $6.5 million in paving upgrades. There’s $2.8 million to deal with sludge removal at Fiddlers Lake Lagoon and $3.26 million to replace one of the lift stations.

The city also wants to add six new staff members to its payroll, including two emergency dispatchers, a human resources officer and a manager of environmental monitoring and compliance.

Of course, everyone wants to know how much this will cost them.

As of now, the city is proposing a property tax hike of 7.47 per cent on both residential and commercial sites. What does that mean? If your property was assessed at $450,000, you would have paid $2,714 in taxes in 2022. That number is projected to rise to $2,916 in 2023, an increase of $202 (approximately $17 per month), if the rate stays where it is right now.

Business owners who have land assessed at $1 million would see their annual taxes rise to $13,799 in 2023 from $12,840 in 2022. That’s a hike of $959, or around $80 per month.

The 7.47 per cent figure is a starting point and could go up or down, depending on how deliberations go next month.

In addition to a property tax increase, an 11 per cent increase on water bills and tipping fees at the dump has been proposed, along with a three per cent hike in user fees at the city’s facilities, such as the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool and the Fieldhouse.

Woodward said the water bill/tipping fee increase is necessary because the solid waste management fund is currently running in the red.

The next step in the budget process will be written questions to administration, which will run until Nov. 25.

Residents will get their first chance to have their say in-person at the Nov. 28 council meeting. Council deliberations are then set to begin on Dec. 5. Approval of the 2023 budget is expected to happen at the council meeting on Dec. 12.

About the Author: James McCarthy

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