If you're one of those people who judges Estevan city council on whether there will be a municipal property tax increase in the budget, you might not be too happy with the 2024 financial plan.
The document includes a two per cent tax hike, the first mill rate increase since 2018. The city had managed to go five straight budgets without a tax increase, despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread inflation.
You had to know that, eventually, taxes would go up. And while two per cent isn't a staggering amount, especially when you compare it to the increases of five or six per cent that are happening in other communities, including Weyburn, Saskatoon and Regina, when people are spending more for everything, a little more for property taxes leaves an impact.
It is a little ironic that the first mill rate increase for the present council would come in the final year of their term. Usually, a council would want to avoid a tax increase in an election year.
Nobody likes to see a tax increase of any sort. But if you can show there's a tangible benefit, some people will understand. Ditto a utility rate increase, which is not expected to happen in Estevan in 2024.
If the tax increase is going to be directed towards wage increases, vehicle purchases and building maintenance, then people won't be happy.
This budget doesn't seem to have a big-ticket item. Perhaps the most notable expense would be the money for a new sidewalk on Perkins Street, which will go a long ways to addressing pedestrian safety in Estevan's southeast corner.
If you were hoping to see an extensive road resurfacing program, well, you might be disappointed, as it appears the biggest infrastructure project is a watermain replacement for portions of First Street and Valley Street.
Municipalities are highly dependent on property tax revenues. If a municipality tries to hold the line on property taxes, particularly at a time of rising inflation, then it's going to have to make sacrifices in other areas. Eventually, if it goes too long without an increase, you're going to notice a decline in services, both for quality and quantity.
It's not easy tackling a municipal government budget. Even in a city the size of Estevan, there's no shortage of work that needs to be done.
A municipal council, regardless of whether it's a city, town, village or RM, is always going to have their detractors. They're going to make a head-scratching decision now and then. But fiscally, this council has done a pretty good job.
They've been able to get some things done during this term without having to turn to a property tax increase, until now, or a significant increase to utility rates. They continue to pay down debt, to the point in which there's been talk of the city being debt-free by 2030. Even if debt is low as opposed to non-existent by the end of the decade, it would be a remarkable turnaround from a decade ago.
Granted, if you give us a look at the line-by-line expenses, which is what we used to have at each meeting, we'd all find a few things that would raise questions.
Council is going to post the budget online before too long and encourage the community to provide feedback. If you have concerns about it, reach out to city hall or a member of council. Don't yap on social media and expect that you're going to be heard or taken seriously. Don't be the clanging of a gong.
If you're worried about the municipal share of property tax increase, suggest ways that the city could save $320,000 while still providing services. If you have ideas for the 2024 or future budgets, bring forward your concerns in a legitimate fashion.
The old adage is you can't fight city hall, but sometimes concerns are heeded.