Saskatoon city council finished budget deliberations ahead of schedule Thursday evening, settling on a 3.89 per cent property tax hike.
The budget talks were originally supposed to last until Friday night, but most line items passed unopposed by councillors and few amendments were made.
The tax increase settled slightly above the adjusted preliminary budget’s increase of 3.85 per cent. The uptick was thanks to investments in a new city council support staff position, and the approval of an additional Access Transit service driver.
With the budget finalized, the average homeowner with a property assessment of $325,000 will face a $66.18 increase in their property taxes in 2017.
“I was pleased that we were able to stay below four per cent,” said Mayor Charlie Clark. “It’s a back-to-basics budget in many ways.”
The majority of the tax increase, 2.48 per cent, is being generated by the dedicated road and snow removal levies.
Additional city jobs
Prominent in the budget numbers was the addition of 57.4 full-time equivalency (FTE) municipal positions. Some of the new jobs reflect the opening of Remai Modern Art Gallery sometime in 2017, along with the two positions added by councillors Thursday.
Many of the other additions were to stop the City’s habit of paying employees overtime at a double-pay rate, Mayor Clark said.
“We’ve grown the city, we need to have more people,” he said.
Ward 9 Councillor Bev Dubois successfully proposed to fund the new Access Transit bus driver at a cost of $76,800. The money also covers part-time work by other employees related to the expanded service the driver would provide.
The pricetag wiped out the savings from cuts to the Remai Modern from Wednesday’s talks.
Dubois said even if there hadn’t been savings from the gallery budget, she believed the addition to Access Transit would still have been approved.
“Our demographics are aging in our city and we need to look after them,” she said.
The new driver was suggested after Saskatoon Transit indicated they had budgeted for the purchase of a new Access Transit bus, but they didn’t have the money to hire someone to drive it.
An additional $79,600 was brought on to the budget to pay for a new position in the city clerk’s office. The employee would be responsible for providing support to city councillors, particularly in scheduling meetings and events.
“If we want our councillors to do more, and we want to do more, we need this position,” Mayor Clark said.
2017’s tax hike is set to be slightly lower than 2016’s, which came in at 3.96 per cent.
No new money for RAP
One of few motions to fail during budget talks was a proposal by Ward 4 Councillor Troy Davies to increase funding to social programs such as the Restorative Action Program. The initiative assists high school students who face bullying.
Davies had proposed to top up the City’s $75,000 grant to the program with an additional $15,250. However, his colleagues worried this would be unfair to other programs that applied for municipal grants.
“I feel like this is changing the rules,” said Ward 6 Councillor Mairin Loewen, who joined councillors Davies, Gough, Block, Gersher, Dubois and Jeffries in striking down the funding.
Davies maintained the investment would have had a positive impact on Saskatoon’s youth.
“There are 9,000 kids who are affected by RAP,” he said. “They acknowledge bullying happening in the schools… they’re the front-line soldiers and they need all the help they can get.”
“I just thought we could do a little bit more.”