Wetaskiwin’s Mayor Bill Elliot is listening and hearing. He is hearing a 14.2% tax increase presented by City of Wetaskiwin administration was unthinkable. He is listening and hearing that when 14.2% was pared down to 9.4%, that number is still unacceptable to the residents of Wetaskiwin. The people are also questioning why the City is proposing an increase in utility costs of 8.1 % in 2013.
The Mayor and Administration were intending to seek approval of the proposed budget increases at the February 11th Council meeting. However the feedback (pushback) received from approximately 100 ratepayers at a Public Budget Open House held February 4th at City Hall, and the latest Coffee with the Mayor held February 7th at the Wetaskiwin Legion verified the City’s proposed solution to the ‘financial sandwich’ they have gotten themselves into is not the correct one in the eyes of the ratepayers. The press release from the City communications department states, “Wetaskiwin City Council listened to what citizens had to say, and is now faced with some difficult decisions to make with regard to passing its 2013/2014 budgets”.
Unfortunately, due to bad planning in the past and insignificant residential, economic and industrial growth, Wetaskiwin residents will be tightly squeezed in a financial sandwich for many years. Tax increases are inevitable. None-the-less, Mayor Bill Elliot in response to push back by ratepayers has directed City Administration to, “ pull approval of the 2013/2014 budgets from the agenda prior to the next Wetaskiwin City Council meeting, set to take place Monday, February 11th at 4:00 pm at council chambers”. He is sending Council and Administration back to the drawing board February 19th and 20th to re-evaluate proposed budget increases. The deliberations are open to the public and begin at 9 am each day.
Chamber of Commerce Jumps In
As the City press release states, “Considering the Wetaskiwin & County Chamber of Commerce is also slated to give a presentation to Council with its perspective on possible budget cuts at the Feb. 11 council meeting, Mayor Elliot believes the extra deliberation time will give Council the opportunity to discuss and consider the Chamber’s feedback prior to budget approval”.
Council Faces A Challenge Loaded With Problems
The bullet City Council will be trying to dodge is to establish tax increases that maintain programs and services and rebuild infrastructure, but will not be so high they will compound the problem. Each dollar paid in taxes is a dollar less for consumers to spend in retail and for businesses to invest in growth and development. Council has very little ‘wiggle room’. A City press release states a significant tax increase is necessary because, “8 per cent (of proposed tax increase) was beyond Council’s control. These included increased costs of the RCMP (2 per cent), Wetaskiwin Regional Aquatic Facility (3.1 per cent), pension and financial system costs (1 per cent) and inflation (1.9 per cent).”
Unfortunately the challenge doesn’t stop there. In addition to property tax and utility tax increases, Aldermen must keep in mind ratepayers will also be faced with increases to user fees for facilities, programs and services. Also, it is expected the tax notice will see an added (likely significant) increase due to the Wetaskiwin Area & Lodge Authority tax and the education tax. The City collects these taxes but has no control over any increases.
The City press release states. “City Administration is in the process of setting up two additional days of public budget deliberation meetings. If an agreement is made on the first day, the second day may not be required. Again, these dates still require confirmation, which is expected following Monday’s (February 11) council meeting.”