Town focusing on hold-the-line budget
Town leaning to zero per cent tax increase
Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 06:00 am
Todd Becker, the town’s chief administrative officer
INNISFAIL – For the third year in a row town council is aiming for a zero per cent tax increase for local property owners.
After three days of deliberations last week Innisfail’s town council completed its daunting task of pouring over operational and capital needs from each department, as well as factoring in a 50 per cent provincial carbon tax increase that takes effect on Jan. 1.
Despite the challenges, council came away feeling confident it will approve administration’s recommendation on Dec. 11 not to raise taxes on Innisfailians in 2018. But that good news comes with a caveat, said Todd Becker, the town’s chief administrative officer.
“From my perspective the budget administration presents represents a zero per cent tax increase with a caveat that it is not confirmed until the Mill Rate Bylaw is presented in the spring,” said Becker, specifically noting the town’s tax assessment could have an impact for at least some property owners.
“There is a little bit of growth in the town but not a whole lot. The town is saying a zero per cent tax increase, but it’s really based on assessment,” he added. “It could go up. It could go down. It depends on what that market piece is assessed at by the assessor.”
Not to be forgotten of course is the spring arrival of the provincial education requisition, which could hit the pocketbooks of ratepayers, even if the hit is just small.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some increase in education tax request,” said Becker.
Nevertheless, there was still a feel-good mood by administration and council after budget deliberations last week. Mayor Jim Romane said council began the lengthy discussions with a clear mission on “keeping it at zero.”
He said council was able to do it without any major cuts and that town staff will not see any serious impacts. As well, council was bullish on trying to save taxpayers’ money by taking serious action on utility costs.
“We are hoping to cut utilities costs and everybody should see a decrease in their utility bills, which is hopefully good news,” said Romane, adding utility costs was one of the most challenging issues during budget deliberations. “That took a lot of attention, a lot of work, because of these high costs with these regional water and wastewater systems. That was probably the toughest one to overcome, to establish a fair utility rate.”
Becker said if passed the recommended budget will maintain the same service levels as the 2017 budget with the operational focus on “efficiencies.”
“We are trying to do the same amount of services and potentially some increases in staffing levels based on looking at efficiencies in operations,” said Becker, adding administration is looking at having a health and safety coordinator. He added the RCMP has requested funding for another municipal employee. However, Becker added that bringing in an economic development officer for the town will be looked at during next year’s strategic planning process.
As for capital expenses he said the town had significant capital projects still on the books and the 2018 capital plan will largely be a carry-over for the two biggest infrastructure projects – the ongoing multi-million dollar sewage lagoon reclamation project that will be completed in 2018 at a cost of $900,000 to remove sludge, and the 49A Avenue and 41st Street reconstruction project valued at $2.6 million.
With all the projected costs and revenues now thoroughly reviewed, council still has the chance to change its mind on Dec. 11 to pass the zero per cent tax increase as recommended by administration. But the mayor feels strongly council will ultimately bring home a hold-the-line budget for its citizens.
“We are looking at some small items that have to be investigated a little more before the final number can be inserted in that area, but it shouldn’t effect the overall budget enough to make any changes,” said Romane. “There are no guarantees but I would say the level of confidence is pretty high.”