Swift Current Mayor Denis Perrault delivered the budget during a regular council meeting. Feb. 13.
“The focus of our 2017 budget is to take care of our city’s core foundational elements, which means taking care of the infrastructure that keeps our community safe, connected and moving, and continuing to provide the services that maintain and enhance our quality of life,” he said. “By ensuring our foundation is solid, we set the stage for growth.”
The City’s 2017 budget documents defines responsible renewal as “the use of good and sound judgement in replacing and repairing infrastructure that is failing, worn out, run down, or broken.” Perrault noted this approach will help the City to achieve its vision of growing the population to 25,000 people by 2025.
“Our 2017 budget ensures that we develop the building blocks for growth by emphasizing the revitalization of core existing infrastructure that attracts residents and investors, and the continued provision of first-rate services that contribute to the Swift Current way of life,” he said. “We have a vision of 25 by 25. It’s the overarching focus of our strategic plan and it’s to pave the way for sustainable growth in our community.”
He highlighted the various services and facilities that are available to residents, including the green space and parks, well-maintained roads, professional fire and police departments, and new schools and health-care facilities.
“As a taxpayer myself, I always think about what we actually get for our tax dollars,” he said. “Municipal taxes are essentially a fee for service and that’s why it’s so important to all of us that your tax dollars add up to good value. When you consider all that we have in our community, … it all adds up to one thing: the Swift Current ratepayer is getting exceptional return on their investment.”
Council members expressed their support for the budget. Councillor Pat Friesen said the development of the budget was a smooth process and there really were not many choices to be made.
“Many of the items in this budget just have to be done,” she mentioned.
“There was no choice about it. We’re dealing with regulations and crumbling infrastructure.”
Councillor Ron Toles indicated his support for the budget, even though he did not like the tax increase.
“Nobody likes to see increase in taxes,” he said. “I think this year we have come to a bare bone increase.”
Councillor George Bowditch felt it is necessary to spend money to keep facilities up to date and operational.
“It is very tough every year when we have to go through our budget,” he said. “It’s not an easy job.”
According to Councillor Chris Martens the spending in the 2017 budget will be on items that are necessary, but not easy to see by residents.
“It’s not a visual tax increase,” he said. “You’re not going to necessarily see all the items that are incorporated into the budget itself. … It’s not sexy stuff that you see, it’s necessary stuff that’s actually taking place to help keep the community growing and to keep the infrastructure solid so that we can continue to have the beautiful city that we live in.”
Councillors Ryan Plewis and Bruce Deg were unable to attend the meeting, but they expressed their support for the budget in statements read by Perrault.
“Looking at this budget is again hard to look for or identify anything that is not necessary,” Plewis wrote. “Over the past few years, the only items that people can argue were not required would be the City’s involvement in many events that we had here in our community.”
However, he felt these events were important to showcase the community and to attract potential new residents, business owners or investors.
The City’s total capital budget for 2017 is $26,585,849. The capital projects include the ice surface replacement at the Credit Union iplex ($2.5 million), south railway bridge rehabilitation ($600,000), Chinook Parkway expansion to the northeast ($570,560), former St. Patrick school site development ($200,000), replacement of the Fairview Arena refrigeration system ($120,000), new utility billing software ($590,000), phone system replacement ($238,000) and installation of a fibre optic network for City facilities ($100,000).
A $3-million project to replace deep utilities along Herbert Street from 3rd Avenue N.E. to the creek is subject to an application to the New Building Canada Fund.
The City will spend approximately $2.2 million on capital projects that have to be carried out to meet regulatory requirements.
It includes the establishment of a new disposal site for hydromud, slope grading at the East Landfill site, the construction of a storm water retention pond at the East Landfill, and rehabilitation of the CPR weir, which is a municipal heritage structure.
A budget allocation of about $3.6 million will be used for ongoing, annual capital programs to rehabilitate core infrastructure in the community.
It includes projects for downtown streetscape rehabilitation, downtown streetlight renewal, conversion of overhead power lines to underground lines in the downtown area, paved street rehabilitation, sidewalk and curbing rehabilitation, and storm sewer repairs and replacement.
Funds have been allocated for various property development projects during 2017, including the development of 31 acres of saleable land in the new South Munro Industrial Park ($2 million), west end redevelopment ($1.4 million) and future land acquisition ($1.2 million).
The City’s operating budget for 2017 will increase by 3.4 per cent to $28,681,095. Perrault noted the City is becoming more efficient at managing the workload without adding more personnel.
Since 2014, the City has been responsible for an additional 35 acres of green space, one kilometre of trail, the former St. Patrick school facility, 3.4 kilometres of paved street, 8.4 kilometres of sidewalks, curbs and gutters, the Safe Places youth certified initiative and more events, but the tax-funded workforce decreased by one full-time position.
“We did our best to minimize tax increases despite we have infinite requests and very finite resources,” he said. “We can control how we manage our workload and as we have continued to develop efficiencies over time, we have been able to get more out of our operating dollars. This year however there are specific pressures on our operating budget that fall outside of our control, requiring adjustments to offset revenue decreases and increased expenses.”
These additional pressures are a decrease in provincial revenue sharing due to a downturn in the economy, an increase in the cost of the City’s contract with the RCMP, and increased labour cost for the City due to the terms of labour agreements.
Perrault suggested residents should not only consider the percentage of the tax increase when they consider the impact of the City’s 2017 budget on their household income. The tax increase of 8.76 per cent will result in a total additional payment of approximately $130 per year or about $10.83 per month on a residential property with an assessed value of $250,000.
“Try hard not to look at the percentages,” he said. “Try to actually look at when you get your tax bill what that means to each and every person. The City of Yorkton takes in well over $20 million of tax, we take in $13 (million). We’re the same size as Yorkton. So when we talk percentages, they’re totally apples and oranges and the same as Regina, the same as Saskatoon. We are without a doubt the lowest taxed (city) in the entire province as a city.”