The City recently released its budget for 2014 with a 15.2 per cent tax increase (6.0 per cent last month and 9.2 per cent this month).
These increases, on top of increases in the past three years, bring us to a total of over 43 per cent. I can’t think of another city in Canada that has had to endure these kinds of increases in such a short time frame.
Included below are the tax increases for other cities in the province for 2014:
Swift Current - 15.2%
Estevan - 10.0%
Lloyminster - 8.66%
Saskatoon - 7.43%
North Battleford - 5.99%
Regina - 5.88%
Yorkton - 5.50%
Prince Albert - 4.50%
Moose Jaw - 3.64%
As you can see we are 50 per cent higher than the next closest city. We simply have not learned that we need to reduce our spending not just raise taxes to address the poor management of our tax dollars. We cannot continue to spend our tax dollars as if we were a city with a much larger tax base. This insatiable appetite for spending without any regard for the taxpayer, who ultimately pays the bills, will further lead us to a place where we’re held financially hostage by our own bad spending habits.
We have been slammed with huge tax increases for the past number of years with no concern about watching the spending.
Our grant revenues from the province alone have increased from $1.3 million to $3.2 million since 2008. The city is generally very quiet about this cash influx especially when it interferes with the annual dog and pony show we are treated to during the budget preparations when we learn, if you buy into the Mayor’s spin, we just do not have enough money to maintain our existing services let alone build for the future. I’m sure we will never have enough money. No one ever does. The rest of us learn to live within our means.
This revenue sharing increase along with the 43 per cent tax increase leads one to wonder where all the money is being spent. And, based on the past performance of city council with their tax and spend mentality, it is logical to assume we will be getting these types of increases for a number of years yet.
The Mayor seems to like blaming the increases on past councils because they held the line on tax increases instead of raising them as they should have. Well maybe they held the line on taxes because they were mindful of past events and controlled both capital and operating expenses as they should have. In fact previous councils even built up reserve funds to help when capital projects where deemed necessary. Unfortunately all of those reserves have now been exhausted and not replaced by recent councils. My question is, would past councils have not raised mill rates if the increase was warranted at that time? How else would the city have managed if they had no money and were cash strapped? Clearly it came from somewhere. Frugal spending of tax dollars is not a bad idea even if our Mayor thinks it is old fashioned thinking and impossible today. In fact almost all of us in our day-to-day lives must live and operate within a finite wage. We cannot simply dictate to our employers a yearly increase as the city feels is appropriate to do with their employers – the tax payer.
Our Council could take a lesson from our Provincial Government. They were able to bring in a budget with no tax increases even though their revenues actually decreased. They did this without cutting programs and instead found efficiencies within government. This is what other levels of government are doing and maybe it’s time we strived for the same. Perhaps it is time this mandate is dictated by the province to its cities to force control of bad spending habits.
This budget, as indicated by the Mayor, is predicated on the recent strategic plan. A plan that is so wildly over optimistic that they believe we will have 25,000 people living in the city by 2025. Council is spending as though we have already achieved the number in this plan. Why not wait for this incredible population boom to start happening then spread the cost around to the higher tax base instead of saddling the existing tax payer with all the associated expense while almost ignoring the existing infrastructure that is more meaningful to the long term residents?
“If we build it they will come” doesn’t work in the real world. It is unrealistic to expect a city of even 25,000 to have the amenities of a city 10 times our size let alone a our current size of 15,500. Sometimes the answer to the call for, “More, more, more” has to be simply, “No.”
All tax increases should be questioned by tax payers. City council would prefer people to just shut up and ignore those increases. Those days are gone. Tax increases of this magnitude in such a short time should be proof enough for everyone why the tax payer cannot become complacent regarding where their money is being spent.
As a tax payer you have choices and a voice as to where your money is being used. Are you exercising that right as much as you could be or are you content to see your disposable income continue to shrink away at this alarming rate?
I’m willing to bet the majority of us would prefer to see more of that money left in our pockets where we, and we alone, determine how it’s to be spent.
Bartley Busse - Swift Current