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It’s like opening a gift on Christmas

An editorial on Estevan City budget deliberations.
Estevan water tower
The Estevan water tower

Getting a look at the City of Estevan’s budget each year can be like opening a Christmas gift, at least if you’re in the media.

Yes, you know some of the items that will be under the financial Christmas tree – money that will be spent in operations, and some of the capital items that have been discussed. You know that city council will keep working on its debt reduction, continuing a trend that has been in place since 2014. 

But you’ll find items that might have been off the radar. And you hope there won’t be a fiscal lump of coal in your stocking.

Estevan city council held budget deliberations on Monday – a seven-hour session that saw members of the management team present their financial plans for the coming 12 months. 

When it comes to budgets, the most obvious question on most people’s minds is whether there will be a property tax increase. The answer, at this point, is no, continuing a trend from the past few years when it comes to the mill rate.

Of course, this could change, but if council does opt to have a property tax increase, then they need to have a pretty good reason for doing so.

Also not in next year’s budget, at least at this point, is a utility rate increase. Most people will tell you that a water consumption rate increase is nearly as bad as a property tax hike.

There are those who will argue for having small, incremental increases to property taxes in order to keep pace with inflation, and to avoid having large increases over one or two years down the line. 

But most will argue for no property tax increases, under any circumstances. 

The capital budget, which details those high-profile projects that will be completed in next year, might not have the high-profile projects of 2021 with the integrated pathway-sidewalk project or the resurfacing of the eastern blocks of Fourth Street. But it should also be noted that Fourth Street had provincial support, while the pathway project had federal and provincial backing. 

Local residents can look forward to seeing the water main replacement program continuing, repairs to the paddling pool at Churchill Playpark taking place after a two-year wait, and sidewalk renewal occurring.

It’s also worth noting that there is money in the budget for roadway rehabilitation for three routes in north-central Estevan, as it appears council is moving forward with resurfacing some of the residential areas that have needed work for a while. 

The most high-profile project might be the much-discussed refurbishment of our water tower, which will be funded by the federal gas tax money. 

As with any budget, you’re going to have people asking “Why not us?” Those who live in southeast Estevan will want to know why there isn’t money for Perkins Street, when there is money for other roads, and you’ll have others wondering when Fifth Street will be completed. They’ll point to their decaying sidewalks and ask why they’re not getting repaired.

It’s frustrating to get snubbed year after year.

Others will want to know why money is spent on vehicle fleet renewal, which can be a tough sell for some.

The operating budget accounts for most of the expenses, but ultimately capital will get people talking.  

You’re never going to please everyone with the budget. And everyone is going to find something at fault with it. They’ll say it does too much or not enough. They might contend that taxes should go up or they should go down. Or they’ll question why council is continuing to emphasize debt repayment so much.

If you’re upset with the budget and its contents (or its omissions) let the right person know. Sounding off on social media isn’t the right way to go about it.

When given the chance to provide feedback, speak up.

Council might not say yes to your request for 2021, but maybe it’s put on the radar for a future year.