On January 6th, 2015 the City of Wetaskiwin hosted an Open House at the Memorial Centre to unveil the outcome of a great deal of difficult deliberation by City Council and Administration. Their task was to establish the proposed tax hike for 2015. In fact, the City underwent, as they suggest, “an extensive public process for the 2015 budget which has included six days of strategic planning, four days of public budget meetings and deliberations and a public open house.” In the end, Council agreed to a 4% increase in the operating tax and a 2.5% ‘investment infrastructure tax’. Total 2015 tax increase – 6.5% increase.
The background information for the budgeting process was provided by a 177 page document that was designed to establish budget increases for the years 2015 – 2018. Attendees of the Open House were invited to view displays and ask questions of each of the City Department representatives, the Mayor and City Councilors.
City Council approved the 2015 Operating Budget establishing total operating revenues and expenditures at $34,876,232. (2014 actual $27,366,534). City Council also approved the 2015 Capital Project Budgets with expenditures of $6,697,196 of which $456,282 is funded from the tax base. (2014 actual $416,970).
But, ratepayers must realize taxes don’t end there. Bylaws proposed by City Administration, if approved, will mean ‘other’ tax increases such as:
• Bylaw 1842-15 Water Utility Levy Bylaw – 5% increase
• Bylaw 1843-15 Sewer Usage Charge Bylaw – 5% increase
• Bylaw 1844-15 Waste Management Bylaw – 5% increase
• Environmental Levy Fee – $10.00 per month
• Wetaskiwin Area & Lodge Authority tax and the education tax – amount to be determined. The City collects these taxes but has no control over any increases (but ratepayers will have to include them in the cheque they take to City Hall in June, 2015).
• Increases to user fees – As 2015 unfolds, Councilors and Administration must also be mindful that increases to user fees for facilities, programs and services must be carefully evaluated and implemented as a source of increased revenue. For example, a local preschool family group, CHIPs, moved their recreation activities from the City operated Drill Hall to the Wetaskiwin Mall because rental rates increased from $30 to $50/hour. Although CHIPS had been using the Drill Hall for 30 years, they found they could no longer afford to use the City owned facility.
Attendance was poor at 2015 Municipal Budget Open House. Are taxpayers complacent about the budgeting process, confident or both. Attendance at the Open House by ratepayers was very low considering approval of an annual municipal operating and capital budget is the most important duty and responsibility of City Council. They have a limited amount of revenue streams to balance demands coming from Administration, staff and ratepayers for all the programs and services they provide. The job of the Mayor and six Councilors is to sort through all those demands and make the best decisions on how to use the money available to them; and that should not necessarily mean asking the ratepayers for more. After all, they were elected to be good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.
During the entire budgeting process Council and Administration also wrestled with establishing taxes that are in line with the fixed and low incomes that are the reality of many Wetaskiwin residents. The meager 1.8% increase in the CPP for Seniors in 2015 will not go very far towards covering even a 6.5% tax increase.
This article contains brief highlights of the City of Wetaskiwin budget proceedings. For more detailed information contact City Manager, Ted Gillespie at 780-361-4400.