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North Battleford still struggling to reduce proposed tax increase, now revised to 6.74 per cent

Much still uncertain about the tax increase, including whether ratepayers can afford it
Budget night 2
The second budget deliberation session on Thursday took place on Zoom.

NORTH BATTLEFORD ‑‑ The 2022 budget in North Battleford is heading to council for further discussion following a second night of deliberations Thursday.

However, much remains uncertain about the size of the potential tax hit to city residents, due to increased costs from the RCMP contract as well as operations costs.

Council held a Special Planning Committee meeting Thursday, with council and administration once again appearing over the Zoom platform. As expected, the proposed tax increases were the biggest concern as council struggled with how to reduce what was originally proposed to be a 7.48 per cent property tax increase.

There has been some movement downward from that original proposal. Director of Finance Brent Nadon reported that after further review they found an additional $110,000 in leasing revenue that could be allocated to the policing service budget, with a resulting reduction in the tax increase from 7.48 to 6.74 per cent. 

That was considered good news, but there was still a lack of comfort around the council table about the size of the proposed tax increase. Residents also face a three per cent increase proposed for utilities and four per cent for waste management fees.

Councillor Greg Lightfoot was not convinced that the tax increase could go any lower, noting the portion of the increase related to the RCMP was out of their control.

The remainder of the tax increase was from operations, and Lightfoot did not see how they could cut down on capital spending. He also noted the impact on inflationary pressures if the capital items were put off.

“A lot of our capital spend is stuff that is needed dearly. It’s very much a need, not a want, budget.”

Councillor Kent Lindgren was among those councillors expressing discomfort about the impact of the increase on residents.

“I don’t think people are able to take that on at that amount,” said Lindgren, who supported further review of where they were spending money in the budget.

Councillor Kelli Hawtin, who chaired Thursday’s meeting, shared that sentiment.

“Some of our largest ratepayers in the city have been hardest hit economically in their businesses, not to mention the economic impact that it’s had on residents as well,” said Hawtin.

“A 6.74 per cent increase is not something to be taken lightly.” 

As for potentially bringing that proposed increase downward, Hawtin suggested administration take a look at the budget and determine what types of service levels or capital items they would be losing. 

“We need to understand what it is that comes off the table for this rate to go down, and is that [a] service level that our ratepayers would accept.” 

Most departments had provided their presentations at the Monday meeting, which meant the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget was front and centre at this meeting. 

One item discussed was what to do to address the ongoing financial issues with the curling club. Administration has supported an operating grant of $36,000 a year to the Twin Rivers Curling Club, to support operations. 

Nadon [ noted that the current operating model between the city and the curling club is “not sustainable.” The curling club had also sustained significant losses due to COVID-19. 

“This is not a COVID fix, this is a long-term fix for a problem that’s been around for quite some time,” said Nadon. He proposed including it in the budget and then work towards a formal agreement. 

The biggest capital items in the budget are Dekker Centre roof replacement for $420,000, Aquatic Centre roof replacement for $800,000 and the Access Communication Centre concession roof for $70,000. Those three are all to be funded by the existing gas tax revenues.

Third party grants were also discussed and one item involved the grant to the Dekker Centre for the Performing Arts. Based on the discussion it appears the grant for 2022 would be set at $227,000, which is $8,000 less than their requested amount.

The next step now for council is for the 2022 budget to be up for further consideration and potentially approval at the Dec. 13 regular council meeting. It is expected more information will be provided at that meeting. If more time is needed, council could discuss the budget further at their Dec. 20 Planning Committee meeting.