WEYBURN – The City of Weyburn received comments from 88 residents about the 2023 budget under consideration by city council, and a final budget will now be drawn up for the Dec. 12 council meeting.
After the preliminary budget presentation on Oct. 24, comments and suggestions were invited from the public from Oct. 25 to Nov. 18, and a report on all of the comments received were presented to council on Monday night.
Of the 88 comments received, 41 requested a tax freeze or decrease; 27 supported an increase at a lower rate than the proposed 10.34 per cent; 17 asked for a freeze or reduction in city employee wages and benefits; 16 asked for improvements to street lights, roads, sidewalks and snow removal; 12 made suggestions about the Leisure Services department; 18 focused on the police department operations and budget request; 12 spoke about the public works department; five were focused on the parks department; four focused on the fire department, and one focused on the planning and development department.
The budget as it’s currently set is seeking an overall funding increase of $991,988 or 10.34 per cent increase in taxes, but administration indicated that this was only their starting point on the budget, not the final number.
“There was great feedback from the community,” said city manager Mathew Warren, noting the comments came from a wide cross-section of residents, both long-term residents and newer families. “It was very, very good to see, and hopefully this will assist council in their deliberations.”
Speaking on behalf of the youth council, youth mayor Gracyn Knipfel said their view is the city budget should focus on roads and infrastructure as the biggest needs for the city.
Coun. Jeff Richards noted he sat in on their discussions, and said, “They brought up hard questions and gave very real feedback, which you heard a few minutes ago. That was an enjoyable process for me and good for the community.”
“These are tough times, times we haven’t seen for 20 years. With the increases in utilities, we are taking everything into consideration,” said Mayor Marcel Roy.
Coun. Mel Van Betuw commented that Weyburn has been cited as one of the best places to live on the prairies, and it’s a safe community.
“I understand with inflation and rising interest rates, it’s harder for some than for others,” he said, adding he thinks the city is doing well with what they have, “but I also believe we can do better.”
He said he does not believe a zero per cent increase is possible, and noted when the city attempted to do it a few years ago, it created problems for the city.
“It’s a difficult time to be making decisions for sure, but rest assured, council wil make tough decisions,” said Coun. Van Betuw.
“Please note this isn’t something we take lightly. We are taxpayers also,” added Coun. Laura Morrissette, saying they will do their best to keep things affordable.
Mayor Roy pointed out they are at the mercy of the provincial and federal governments to an extent.
“We have to work with what we’ve got. Staff and all of the departments work with what is available, and we strive to make this one of the best cities on the prairies,” said the mayor.
• In other council business, council voted unanimously against allowing backyard chickens in the city, after a report was presented by city clerk Donette Richter.
She noted that staff reached out to other municipalities in Saskatchewan, and no other city allows backyard chickens, although a few towns and villages will allow for urban hens.
They also reached out to the Weyburn Humane Society to ask if they would be able to handle any calls if people were allowed to raise chickens, and were informed “they likely would not have the capacity to handle taking in chickens in addition to the cats and dogs they already take in.”
Some of the concerns raised included the risk of increased wildlife in the city (such as skunks, foxes, coyotes and rats), the risk of avian influenza and disease, and the potential of noise and smell being a nuisance to other residents.
Council voted on the matter without offering any public comments.