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Editorial: City department heads, council, deserves credit for proposed budget

An editorial on the City of Estevan 2023 budget deliberations.
Estevan city council 2021
The current Estevan city council.

Those who believe that Estevan city council should at least hold the line on property taxes each year should be happy with the 2023 financial plan as it stands.

City council held its budget meeting on Monday, going through the operating and capital portions of the document with the different department heads.

In the end, people want to know what will be accomplished, what they will get for their taxpayer dollars and if it will cost them more money for everything to happen. Different people have different priorities.

Some will tell you it’s unacceptable for property taxes and utility rates to go up. Others will say they’ll take a small increase in property taxes if it means projects get accomplished. If they can’t see things happening, they’ll be ticked off when it comes time to pay their taxes and utility bills.

We’ll see whether or not there is an increase in the municipal portion of property tax. Just because there isn’t one in the budget now doesn’t mean there won’t be one when the document receives final approval in January. If we don’t have a mill rate increase at a time of significant, widespread inflation, then that’s an impressive feat for council and the city’s administration.

If there is an increase, then we hope it will be minimal. Nobody wants to see a double-digit increase like the one that has been proposed for Weyburn’s budget this year. Meanwhile, North Battleford is looking at an increase of more than seven per cent, while Regina is facing a 4.67 per cent increase.

No matter how much work there is to be done in a community, people will be fuming when you start talking about a 10 per cent increase in taxes, especially when they’ve encountered so many expenses due to inflation. And when it happens in the second half of council’s term, it’s something voters are more likely to remember come election time.

Say what you will about the present council – and there are those who have lots of complaints – but they have done a pretty good job when it comes to stewardship of finances. They didn’t increase the municipal share of property taxes in 2022, and they held the line on the city’s mill rate in 2021, too.

And they’re continuing to make progress on debt repayment. The debt that was so onerous a decade ago continues to diminish, and if the city doesn’t take out any new debt for capital projects in 2023, the debt principal could be below $11 million by the end of next year. 

We’re sure there are always improvements that can be made when it comes to stewardship of our money and transparency, and we’d all do differently if given a shot, but the picture continues to improve.

The absence of a mill rate increase isn’t sustainable long-term. Eventually, the city will reach the point in which it will have to do something, whether it be raise the taxes, or you have to cut back on services, employees and capital projects. But there’s only so much you can cut before residents really start to notice a problem.

And if you start holding off on infrastructure projects, then you find yourself in an infrastructure deficit, which eventually requires larger tax increases.

The city is seeking the public’s input on the budget. If you’re concerned about the budget, we hope you’ll express your thoughts. And do it the right way. Email city hall. Call them. Actually talk to people. Don’t post on a rant and rave site without using your real name and believe it’s enough. It’s not. And nobody takes comments there seriously.

If you’re happy with the budget, we hope you’ll say it. If you think there should be a mill rate increase to offset the rising cost of doing business, then jump at the chance.

But voice your concerns. You can fight city hall. When given the chance to share your thoughts, do it.

But it’s likely that the city won’t be hearing many complaints about this budget if they’re indeed able to keep property taxes stable at a time when so many are looking at large increases.

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