Recently council received a report concerning future financial alternatives and has asked for input from the public.
It should come as no surprise that the City finances are in dire straits. This issue has been developing for the past 10 years and we are now about to hit the wall. Council is suggesting we raise the mill rate to a level approaching that of comparable cities and this is after already raising the mill rate 27 per cent in the past three years. Our mill rate is often compared to other cities, suggesting we are the lowest, and so we should be, with the millions we collect from our power utility that other cities do not have access to. A more fair comparison of our finances would be to calculate our spending per capita, factoring out our power utility and compare that to other cities. When one does that, our spending is not at the bottom, but is near the top of all cities in the province. It has become apparent that we do not have a revenue problem; rather we have a spending problem.
Our operating budget for the past number of years has been increasing at a per capita spending level much higher than inflation and there seems not to be much of an effort to rein in this spending habits. We have reached the point at which the equivalent of all the power utility revenues now go to financing our long term debt repayments and there is none left to help our mill rate. So now the suggestion is to raise the mill rate with no mention of watching our spending. The "Swift Current Advantage" as it has been called is about to be a thing of the past.
I am not suggesting all debt is bad, but debt that is higher than we can comfortably repay becomes a burden on our taxpayers. Most of us have mortgages, but we do not carry a million dollar mortgage if we can only afford a $300,000 one. At present our debt has gotten away on us and is many times higher per capita than any other City, Village or Municipality in the province. We must get our spending habits under control before the province becomes the steward of our City's finances.
We have been told that our long term debt is funded by the various utility payments, and higher user fees as well as coming out of cash flows. So what has changed, other than the large increases in our operating budget?
To suggest we need to have tax increases to bring us closer to the levels of other cities is not acceptable. No other city has the millions in power revenue that we receive. Our Provincial and Federal grants over the last five years have also grown substantially. It is time that we live within our means. Other levels of governments have been implementing cost cutting measures over the past few years. It is time we do the same.
Don Robinson - Swift Current