City’s draft budget calls for two per cent tax hike, 50 jobs cut

City council tabled a draft budget Thursday that would see a two per cent residential property tax hike, in line with one of Mayor Jim Watson’s major campaign promises.

The increase represents $72 for an urban residence worth $375,300 and $56 for a rural home of the same value.

“Residents and businesses will see their priorities reflected in this draft budget, which will move us forward on major city-building projects while ensuring we continue living within our means,” Mr. Watson said in a statement. “The draft budget proposes several common-sense measures to save money and keep taxes affordable.”

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Dealing with a $36-million deficit, the draft budget also includes a 2.5 per cent increase in transit fees and the elimination of the equivalent of 50 full-time jobs. Water and sewer rates will jump six percent or $49 a year, as previously approved in the city’s long-range financial plan. Garbage fees will be frozen for a fourth straight year.

City staff also reported “multi-year efficiencies” can be found through the review of planned purchases of trucks and other fleet vehicles, contracting out iron works, reducing the number of consultants for internal surveys and online forms, and reducing the amount spent on advertising, media monitoring, printing and postage. Other suggestions included reducing overtime and on-call staff time, converting street lights to LED, and reviewing all city-owned land and property.

These savings will be realized while the city continues to invest in affordable housing, up $2 million, and recreation programs for low income families, up $50,000. The 40 km winter cycling network will get a $200,000 boost and $10 million will go to infrastructure projects other than the continuing light rail construction.

City manager Kent Kirkpatrick, working on his final budget before his retirement in spring 2016, credited staff with finding “smart efficiencies” that will begin to reduce financial pressure on the city.

“By adopting a multi-year budget approach, the city will be better able to address longer term financial challenges, ultimately putting the city in a stronger financial position by the end of the current term of council,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said in a statement.

Councillors held public consultations before the draft budget was tabled, but there are still opportunities for concerned residents to provide input. The draft budget now goes to standing committee, commission and board meetings to be held Nov. 17 and Dec. 7, and the public is welcome to register a delegation for any of the meetings. An email address, has also been activated.

Council will vote on the budget Dec. 9.

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