Saskatoon city council chose to knock $9 off the average tax bill instead of funding an expanded snow removal program on Monday evening, ending a raucous first day of budget deliberations.
Councillors removed a $1.2 million dedicated snow and ice management levy from the 2018 budget, marking the second year in a row the planned expansion won’t go forward.
Instead, council voted in favour of contributing $50,000 towards staffing to handle charging private companies a user fee to use city-owned snow management facilities. The change is expected to generate over $500,000 in revenue annually.
Council also approved $60,000 to equip city snow removal vehicles with blue warning lights.
Ward 10 councillor Zach Jeffries said he couldn’t support increasing snow removal services when many other departments had submitted budgets just to maintain current levels.
“When we’re asking people to pay as much as they are (without service level increases), I just can’t in good conscience be doing that when we have so much to backfill,” he said.
The snow and ice levy would have gone towards purchasing new equipment, including sanders, and to more contracts for snow removal across Saskatoon.
Ward 3 Coun. Ann Iwanchuk was the only member of council to vote in favour of keeping the $1.2 million levy.
“Last year we assured citizens that we would not abandon this initiative, and this is not the time to do it,” she said.
“We’re told through the farmer’s almanac this is going to be a heavy, heavy snow year. This is the perfect year to see what these initiatives would do for us.”
By removing the dedicated levy and including other funding decisions made by council on day one, the property tax increase currently sits at 4.43 per cent.
The tax hike translates to an average of $77.21 in 2018, based on an assessed property value of $371,000. Before budget talks started, the increase sat at $86.37 per average homeowner.
Big ticket items pass unscathed
While most of the evening budget session’s debate was focused on the transportation business line, other departments managed to get their budgets approved without amendments.
Saskatoon police received a unanimous yes vote on their 3.25 per cent budget increase, which represents 1.17 per cent of the current tax increase of 4.43 per cent.
The extra $2.6 million is expected to mostly go towards staff compensation, as members move up through the ranks and pay-scales.
Saskatoon Public Library, utilities and waste management were also approved with minimal effect on the tax rate.
The Remai Modern art gallery’s $5.5 million city subsidy was also approved, though not without councillors voicing some concern over their revenue projections.
MVA funding to highlight day two
While snow and ice management dominated the first day of budget talks, another outdoor service is set to create debate Tuesday.
The Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) is making a request for $341,000 in additional funding not included in the preliminary budget.
Part of that funding is to help operate the outdoor skating rink in Kiwanis Memorial Park, while the rest is being requested to finance the organization’s operations.
The MVA has been reeling since the provincial budget slashed their funding, forcing them to cut several programs earlier in the year.
In September, interim CEO Doug Porteous warned the group could “cease to exist” if a new funding model wasn’t put in place.
Council is set to continue budget deliberations from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m Tuesday, with a similar session scheduled for Wednesday.