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Estevan property taxes to rise 3.8 per cent

As expected, city council decided to raise taxes and the amount Estevan residents pay for water Monday night. Council voted unanimously to approve the 2011 budget which included a property tax hike of 3.
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As expected, city council decided to raise taxes and the amount Estevan residents pay for water Monday night.

Council voted unanimously to approve the 2011 budget which included a property tax hike of 3.8 per cent or the equivalent of three-quarters of a mill. Water bills will also increase by five per cent.

Mayor Gary St. Onge said although raising taxes is never popular, he felt the three-quarter mill increase was a reasonable one.

"I was hoping we wouldn't have to go a full mill so we were able to cut it back to three-quarters and we certainly didn't want to go up more than five per cent on the water," St. Onge said following Monday's meeting.

"Naturally, everyone would like to say we never want to raise taxes but that's unrealistic in the fact that a lot of your costs keep going up. We just settled (a new contract) with the police and we just settled with CUPE this year. All of our contractor costs are higher."

Monday's increases were not nearly as large as had first been projected. After council completed its first review in December, a tax increase of almost two mills and water bill increase of 15 per cent would have been needed to cover the deficits.

That prompted council to take another look at the budget and do some more fine tuning. What they came up with was a document that included a deficit of $384,255 in the general fund and $267,226 in the water utility which still necessitated an increase, albeit a lower one.

Among the items cut from the budget were a new oil truck and cold storage building for the public works department as well as traffic lights at the intersection of Kensington Avenue and Rooney Road. Overall, $335,675 was removed from the budget.

On the water/wastewater side, the cuts were much larger as council took out six items which had a total price tag of $678,900.

St. Onge said although they would have liked to keep all the items in the budget, it was unlikely the City would have had time to complete all the work in 2011 anyways.

"It depends on how wet it is again," he said. "You have a wish list and you have to prioritize what's the best. You have to do what you think is best for the whole city and I think it is going to get most of the work done."

A 3.8 per cent increase will raise an additional $439,000 for city coffers. For taxpayers, a homeowner with a property valued at $175,000 will pay an estimated $70 more in 2011.

Councillor Chris Istace, who noted that he will pay an extra $48 this year, called the increase a good deal for taxpayers.

"I hate to see the increases but we can't make room for the changes that are needed for the city without this," he said. "I think I am getting an incredible return on my $48."