A growing city needs more services and more policing, and a way to pay for it.
That’s the message in the City of Saskatoon’s preliminary 2019 budget released Wednesday morning with a proposed property tax hike of 4.5 per cent.
After calculating the rising cost of business due to inflation and other budget items related to Saskatoon’s growing population and physical size, the city’s finance department found a funding gap of $10.4 million that would necessitate the higher tax bill.
According to the city’s data, a 4.5 per cent hike would translate to an extra $81.36 on the annual property tax bill for a home valued at $371,000.
City council had directed finance to target a tax increase between 4.0 and 4.5 per cent.
Saskatoon city councillors are set to go through the budget line-by-line from Nov. 26 to 28, with the power to reduce or expand individual items. The end of the process, a final percentage tax increase for ratepayers will be set.
When councillors review the preliminary budget, they’ll be faced with a request from Saskatoon police to increase their funding $4.1 million, representing nearly half of the tax-funded gap.
At a police board of commissioners meeting last week, Chief Troy Cooper explained most of the money would go towards scheduled staff salary increases.
Another portion would go towards hiring 10 new staff members, including a new crash analyst to deal with an anticipated rise in impaired driving collisions due to legalized cannabis and several new patrol officers.
Overall, the city’s operating expenses are increasing $20.6 million, with $17.5 million geared towards maintaining the current level of municipal services and an additional $3.1 million towards new initiatives and a budget contingency of $500,000.
The money is partially offset by $10.2 million in expected revenue increases, which includes slight price increases in the city’s leisure card prices — $5 for adult one month passes, $3 for youth passes and $10 for family passes.
Most other city services that impact property taxes aren’t changing at all.
However, the budget also reveals a 9.25 per cent hike in water utility bills coming in January.
While the city is pinning a large portion of the proposed tax increase on the police budget, there are other areas seeing big jumps in 2019.
Saskatoon Transit’s operating budget is set to increase by a total of $2.25 million after a $334,500 downgrade in revenue expectations from ridership.
The expected decrease in ridership revenue is combined with a $1.2 million boost in staff salaries, which includes raises and three new operator positions to maintain high-frequency routes on 8th Street, 22nd Street and the Attridge Drive/Preston Avenue corridor.
The Remai Modern art gallery is also set to draw an extra $455,800 from the property tax base in 2019, with $128,100 in increased subsidies to the facility to “accommodate the programming and expenditures that are not offset by self-generated revenue.”
They’re also contributing $300,000 to a required civic buildings reserve for maintenance projects.
The Saskatoon Public Library is also asking for an additional $1.77 million from taxpayers, after a modest increase of $400,000 in 2018.
Saskatoon Fire’s budget is boosted by $1.73 million, with nearly all coming from increases to staff compensation and an $81,000 full-time position for a new fire inspector.