Now that Estevan's city council has started their serious 2011 budget discussions, local ratepayers will soon be able to surmise whether or not this city hall team will be able to hold the line on property taxes this time around.
There are convincing arguments to be made for the need to hike the tax rate in the city, especially since it is on a robust growth path. But that fact also provides a compelling argument for the councillors and administration to be able to hold the line, or at least hold the increase, to a modest level.
On the need to spend side, we know we'll hear the arguments (some of them we've made ourselves) that there is the desire for more police and policing equipment. Protection is something this city does not need to compromise during this period of unprecedented growth.
Public works and leisure services are another two categories where it will be impossible to hold the 2009 line. There are already built-in wage hikes tied to union agreements that have to be met in all these areas, so thinking about reducing or maintaining the budget levels in any of these three areas, would be folly.
Now, on the other side of the issue, we see areas where fresh income could and should mitigate most of the rising expenses.
For instance, there will be several businesses coming off the City's tax holiday scheme that was awarded to new and expanding enterprises. This additional income will be welcomed by all.
The recently imposed hefty increases in fees for utilities and public services, or the back door taxes if you will, should be offsetting any increases these sectors are experiencing on the expense side.
The aforementioned pay increases will have been budgeted for already, so no need to suggest that there be a requirement to boost the tax rate even more to accommodate them.
No major capital works projects for the City in the offing and the technology costs should have levelled out as well.
And we must not forget the promised increase in provincial contributions, the revenue sharing formula, that is to be completed this spring and which should bring some additional tens of thousands of dollars into the local coffers.
Fees paid by developers are designed to be a zero sum game, so that area of growth in the city has been addressed for the most part.
So those are the arguments laid out on the "hold the line" side of the debate.
Since we are not privy to all the inner workings of our civic administration, we have to provide some suppositions in making our remarks, but overall, we believe we'd be more than a little disappointed if our council regulars aren't able to keep this year's property taxes and service fees down to a minimum of five or six per cent in total.