After spending four days debating how to reduce its projected budget deficit and the resulting property tax increase, Saskatoon city council has landed on a budget that will increase property taxes by 6.04 per cent in 2024.
That will amount to about an extra $10.47 per month for the average homeowner, the city says.
Councillors convened Friday for the fourth day of multi-year budget debates, starting the day with projected deficits of $17.4 million for 2024 and $16.9 million for 2025, which would require a 5.94 per cent property tax increase in 2024 and 5.42 per cent in 2025.
By the end of the day, the 2024 tax increase had increased slightly to 6.04 per cent, with the 2025 hike projected to be 5.64 per cent.
“There are some people who would like, and think, that we should have a zero per cent property tax increase, and there’s also a lot of people who… understand that we’re facing a lot of pressures,” Mayor Charlie Clark told reporters after the meeting.
Clark blamed the deficit on issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, record snow storms, payroll expenses and city growth.
Council brought the property tax increase down to one-third of what was projected in summer 2024, sacrificing some programs, services and potential jobs in the process.
“That is on my mind, that some of the things that this budget means is we’re not going to get as many roads paved this year,” Clark said.
“There will be some of those impacts that residents will see.”
Council cut deeper into the 2024 deficit Friday morning, before adding more than $1 million in programs into the budget, finally settling on the 6.04 per cent tax increase.
The big ticket items included the Saskatoon Transit workers support program, with trained community support officers on transit to improve rider and driver safety, which is budgeted at $278,600 in 2024.
There’s also a $100,000 annual road safety audit program to be deployed at unsafe locations — a change introduced after the death of a Saskatoon cyclist in the summer of 2023 — and a $240,000 program to support housing programs, including in the city’s housing strategy.
The housing program split the council chamber, becoming part of the budget after a 6-5 vote.
“I’m not prepared to fund people to roll out what I don’t know they will be rolling out,” Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill said, saying he opposed the motion without being able to review a housing strategy report that hasn’t been released.
“Residents are concerned about the affordability of housing in our city today, [but] they’re also concerned about the affordability of housing in our city tomorrow,” Ward 2 Coun. Hilary Gough said, in the motion’s favour.
Four councillors — Hill, Troy Davies, Randy Donauer and Bev Dubois — voted against the budget in its final draft.
Councillors struggled over the four days to agree where to find savings, leading to comments about a divided council.
Hill said prior to his vote against the budget that his goal was to focus on core services and community safety, but that councillors’ definitions of “core services” differed.
“Residents are struggling with their day-to-day expenses and they’re having to make tough choices. That’s exactly how I saw this budget process — my job was to make tough choices,” Hill said. He called the tax increase “unacceptable.”
Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Dubois (Ward 9) said the budget was the “most intense” she’s dealt with during her 17 years on council.
In his final comments, Ward 10 Coun. Zach Jeffries said council was never going to reduce the potential property tax to the four per cent set out as a goal by some, because there weren’t enough opportunities set out by city administration or councillors to cut into the deficit.
The budgeted property tax rate increase is the highest since 2014, when taxes rose by 7.43 per cent.
In a statement released shortly after council’s budget decision, the North Saskatoon Business Association acknowledged council members’ “dedicated efforts” to reduce the potential 18.56 per cent property tax increase outlined in the summer, but said council could have done more.
The association said before budget deliberations, it “suggested various options for potential savings, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing essential services.”
“Unfortunately, all these recommendations were discarded,” it said.
Source : CBC