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Council gives tax increase tiny shave

Simon Whitehouse
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Three hours of budget deliberations Monday night produced a slight reduction to the proposed 2.87 per cent property tax hike for next year.

Property taxes are now slated to go up by 2.81 per cent after city council decided to postpone a citizen survey until 2013, which will save $33,000. Council will vote on the final budget for 2012 at its Dec. 12 council meeting.

Council is also reducing a proposed $5 increase to the solid waste levy on monthly water bills to $2.50. That will put the solid waste levy at $14.50 per month come Jan. 1.

City councillor David Wind said now is not the time for a big hike to the solid waste levy. The city had hoped a $5 hike to the solid waste levy would help pay down a $349,000 deficit in its Solid Waste Management Fund by 2014, but the smaller levy increase means the deficit won't be paid down until 2016.

"For council it was a question of whether to put all the pain in one shot and get the criticisms with it or spread it all out over time," said Wind.

"I think people are struggling with the economy not being as great as it has been and I think this helps out."

Coun. Cory Vanthuyne, who has yet to vote in support of a city budget since coming onto council in 2009, said he is starting to see improvements with the budget process, although they are coming along slowly.

"The honest truth is that going in people ask for cuts or freezes and that kind of thing," said Vanthuyne.

"But we end up getting more people asking for stuff than cutting. So it becomes trying to find a fine line between satisfying those wanting cuts with people who ask 'why aren't we doing this or that?' "

Vanthuyne said the 2012 budget is minus some of the larger infrastructure projects of earlier budgets, which made the process this year a bit easier. Still, he thinks the city is spending too much money on high-tech items like network upgrades, GIS and server replacements.

"There are huge investments in IT and council is asking to find benefits from the investments," he said, pointing out that costs for 2012 are running about $700,000 to $1 million.

Mayor Gord Van Tighem said he is satisfied with the outcome of the budget process overall compared to previous years.

"It was a process that went smoother than years in the past, but probably similar to last year," said Van Tighem. He owed this to the fact that council had seen the budget draft about four times this year and had made revisions throughout the year, starting as early as May.

He said administration has done a thorough job of keeping property tax increases low, especially compared to other municipalities and capital cities such as Calgary and Edmonton. He said the city in fact had planned to increase taxes by a similar rate to these cities - in the neighbourhood of five to seven per cent.

"I'm happy that we have a fiscally responsible budget and one that is at a rate lower than the inflation rate (2.99 per cent)," added Coun. Bob Brooks.

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