A series of pressing infrastructure needs, combined with increased operational expenses beyond the city’s control, has resulted in Swift Current City Council passing a budget which will cost the average homeowner an additional $130 in yearly municipal taxes.
Council approved a $85,283,800 budget at their February 13 meeting, with the capital expenditure budget rising 4.7 per cent to $26,585,849, and the operating budget climbs 3.4 per cent to $28,681,095.
“The actual impact of the budget is the bottom line of 8.76 per cent or $10.83 per month on an average,” explained Swift Current Mayor Denis Perrault following Monday’s budget presentation.
Municipal taxes went up a total of 14.1 per cent (a 3.4 per cent higher operating budget, a 4.7 per cent higher capital budget, and an additional 6.0 per cent as the city continues with their financial strategy adjustment). However, that total is offset by a levy differential change of $65 less per year. Swift Current taxpayers had been paying $100 per year to complete payment for the Cypress Regional Hospital, but with that financial commitment completed this past year, city residents are now paying $35 per year over 30 years to complete the municipal portion of the financing of The Meadows.
“Try hard to not look at the percentages, try to actually look at when you get your tax bill what that means to each and every person,” stressed following the budget approval. “We are, without a doubt, the lowest taxed in the entire province as a City.”
The City is making a series of key 2017 capital investments to preserve the integrity of infrastructure.
“Unfortunately, there is some infrastructure that we can’t say ‘no’ to anymore. Our bridges are one of them, our roads are another, and all those pipes underground are things that we need to look at. We need to proactively fix those things,” Perrault explained.
Swift Current is awaiting word on a New Building Canada Fund grant to assist with repairing deteriorating underground services under Herbert Street between 3rd Ave. and 6th Ave. N.E. The corrugated steel Storm Main under Herbert St. has disintegrated and this $2.81 million project would be cost shared with the provincial and federal government if the City’s grant application is accepted.
Another large ticket item is a $2.5 million concrete improvement project at the iPlex to alleviate a failing floor caused by heaving piles in the floor slab. This situation has been getting worse over the six years as they have continually monitored the worsening problem.
The South Railway Bridge along South Railway St is in need of a $600,000 improvement, with the city approving spending to replace existing expansion joints and improve deteriorating concrete.
The City is making an investment of $590,000 to improve their utility billing software, with the new technology providing improved customer service and paving the way for online billing and payments.
The City is also moving ahead with a $570,000 North East Parkway Expansion project to add a wooden boardwalk portion of the Chinook Parkway east of its current northern ending point.
Also approved is $120,000 for refrigeration system upgrades at the Fairview Rink to replace equipment that began to fail at the start of the past hockey season.
There is also $100,000 in spending approved for a continuation of Fibre Optic Network upgrades to connect all city facilities to fibre optics.
Other capital highlights include improvements to the traffic lights at the North Service Rd. and Central Ave. N. intersection, plus developing an athletic field and adding a play structure at the former St. Pat’s School site.
A total of $2.2 million in spending is required for projects that the City must complete in order to be compliant with regulatory requirements.
“There are a number of capital projects that we’ll complete in 2017 in order to meet new federal and provincial regulatory requirements. These projects will preserve public health and safety, protect our environment, and allow us to maintain operating licences and permits.
The City is spending $400,000 for a compactor to be utilized at the East Landfill to meet provincial regulations that require a higher degree of compaction at the landfill. This will help the City comply with this regulation, but it will also extend the use of the landfill.
The City will be spending $200,000 to create a waste disposal location for Hydromud created during Hydro-Vac work. As a result of new requirements by the Ministry of Environment, the City will be selecting and establishing a new site and disposal system for this waste.
There is also $135,000 approved in 2017 to reduce the slope grading at the East Landfill, the starting year in a decade of changes to meet new regulations. There was also $150,000 approved for a Storm Water Retention Pond at the east landfill as a result of requirements from the Water Security Agency.
Swift Current is also spending $275,000 for CPR Weir improvements to repair this failing piece of infrastructure. Ice jams and high runoff levels over the past years have damaged the weir and portions of the structure are missing.
Swift Current will be spending $3.6 million on capital rehabilitation and maintenance projects.
Included in this total is: $300,000 for Downtown Streetscape Rehabilitation, $100,000 for storm sewer main rehab work, sidewalk and curbing rehab at a cost of $850,000, downtown streetlight renewal at a cost of $110,000.
The 2017 paved street rehabilitation budget was set at $850,000 to improve between 1.5 and 1.7 kilometres of city streets this coming year.
The higher capital spending also includes the continuation of the light and power conversion, with just over $500,000 being spent to change overhead power lines to underground services in the downtown core.
The City is also spending money on property development, specifically adding industrial land. In 2015, the last of the available lots in the Munro Industrial Park were sold, so the City has approved a $2 million expenditure to add 28 new lots on a 31 acre parcel adjacent to the current industrial park area. This is the first phase of a longer term project to continue to expand the available industrial properties in the community.
“With continued demand for industrial lot availability, our 2017 property development focus will be adding additional lots at an adjacent area known as South Munro Industrial Park,” Perrault said of the lots which will be available by late 2017.
Three areas account for the 3.4 per cent increase in the operating budget.
Swift Current will experience a decrease in provincial revenue sharing caused by the downturn experienced across the province which generated lower PST revenue. To cover receiving $173,000 less in revenue sharing from the province this year, the City will require a 1.24 per cent increase in the operating budget.
Swift Current’s policing contract with the RCMP is going up in 2017. The RCMP’s union agreement expired at the end of 2014, and a new agreement is expected this year. This contract increase will also include retroactive pay increases to cover 2015 and 2016, so council approved a 1.38 per cent hike in the operating budget to cover this expense.
A series of negotiated labour agreement increases will require a further operating budget increase of 0.33 per cent to cover those higher wages.
Perrault pointed out since the start of 2014, the City has experienced additional growth in events and city amenities, but are currently operating with one fewer full time employee.
“This clearly demonstrates our commitment to finding efficiencies, since we are literally doing more with less.”
A 6.0 per cent increase to taxes is continued as part of a desire to move away from the City’s reliance on debt to fund capital purchases. This financial strategy was introduced in 2014 to utilize Light and Power utility revenues, which had been used to subsidize property taxes, to now fully fund capital commitments, replace items and pay for ongoing capital rehabilitation projects.
“With a 3.4 per cent increase in operating, a 4.7 per cent increase in capital, the transition from our old hospital levy to the new long term care one, the projected increase to our 2017 budget is 2.76 per cent. When we add in the Financial Strategy of 6.0 per cent, the total increase is 8.76 per cent,” Perrault said.
Taxation increases will result in an annual $195 per average household increase, but taxation is offset by a $65 reduced levy payment. A special annual $100 levy to pay for the Cypress Regional Hospital has been completed, but city taxpayers are now paying $35 a year over 30 years to fund the municipal share of funding for The Meadows.
Perrault summed up the budget strategy as a responsible renewal of the community.
“By taking care of what we have, and always looking to improve, we are paving the way for growth,” Perrault said. “We’re reinforcing and expanding poor infrastructure to ensure the community can attract and support growth. We’re constantly focussed on our number one priority, and that’s taking care of you – our customer – to ensure that we safeguard the Swift Current way of life that makes our community so attractive.”
“What we are hoping to achieve is responsible renewal. We are taking care of the assets and all the infrastructure that we have in our community, and bringing those that need it, back to a state where they are as good as new. And we’re also going to add existing infrastructure in order to sustain the growth that we know we’re going to continue to see.”
Perrault invites anyone with budget questions to contact him via email at email@example.com, or arrange an appointment at City Hall on a Monday where he keeps regular office hours.