Swift Current ratepayers are facing a 2.9 per cent tax increase for 2019 after Swift Current City Council approved their 2019 budget at their December 17 meeting.
The 2.9 per cent increase translates to a $49 per year tax increase, or $4.07 per month. The 2019 budget is forecasting $63,497,980 in total revenue compared to the 2018 forecast of $61,875,268.
Swift Current Mayor Denis Perrault said the budget contains a necessary series of investments and upgrades which is achievable with just a 2.9 per cent increase in taxes.
“I believe a lot of it has to do with careful planning, diligence, and I think a good team. We’re always trying to look for efficiencies. We’re always trying to be able to do better. And I really believe our city team, over the last few years, have definitely been able to do that,” Perrault said after the unanimous approval of the budget.
The modest tax increase is part of the first budget after City Council adopted a financial strategy starting back in 2013 to move away from a reliance on Light and Power dividends and away from debt financing for capital projects. In the six budgets from 2013 to 2018, the changed financial strategy resulted in a total tax increase of 56.9 per cent. In 2017 in went up 14.1 per cent and last year the city budget increased 13.14 per cent.
“That completed last year. And that’s to our advantage. That wasn’t easy. And you’re right, we did see some larger than usual tax changes over the last few years. But that’s complete now. We’re in a better position today than where we were, while still maintaining the lowest taxes in the province across all cities.”
“There was six years consecutive where what we were doing was a financial strategy. We were trying to take our reliance away from debt,” he explained. “The goal really is to use our Light and Power dividend to use it for capital projects in the year. And in the past that Light and Power dividend was effectively subsidizing operations.”
Perrault said the budget reflects the success of that financial strategy and avoids the need for a large increase this year. The 2019 budget aims to raise $22.73 million through tax levy and grants, only slightly higher than the $22.18 million in tax revenue in the 2018 budget.
“Quite frankly I don’t think we need to,” he said of proceeding with a larger tax increase this year. “We’re trying to give the best service that we can for a fair price to our citizens. I believe this budget accomplishes that with a very modest change to taxation. And that was the challenge that we as a council put forth to our admin team, and in my opinion they absolutely delivered it.”
One of the highlight expenditures announced in the budget delivers funding to add two new members for the Swift Current City RCMP Detachment.
“Our RCMP, our local detachment, has in the past requested more teammates. And I’m very proud this year we’re able to deliver two new teammates to their rosters. That’s part of our Safe and Caring Community. So that when people do call and do need help, we’ve got the resources available.”
This additional funding will grow the RCMP staff complement to 21 officers. The city detachment is currently staffed by one Staff Sergeant, one Sergeant, two Corporals, along with 15 Constables (two plain clothes members, a school liaison officer, and 12 general duty investigation members).
As a result of the two new positions, the 2019 budget for all portions of police protection spending will grow to $3.38 million, up from last year’s total of just under $3.25 million. Through the Municipal Police Service Agreement, the City of Swift Current pays 90 per cent of all policing costs, with 10 per cent contributed by the federal government.
Perrault admitted this piece of the budget is a highlight, and he credits a strong presentation by Staff Sergeant Gary Hodges in laying out the importance to two added officers to their compliment of members.
“That’s actually one of the proudest items that I see on there, albeit each and every piece was something that was deliberated and discussed with all of our council. And each and every piece of the pie is very important. That’s one that stands out for me, and especially the year our RCMP had. They were very busy. And I know they’re going to be just as busy in ’19, so I want them to have the teammates standing along side them to be able to accomplish all of their goals.”
After a few years of not adding any FTE (full time equivalent) jobs, the City is adding a Partnerships and Events Coordinator along with a Lt. Colonel Clifton Centre and Dickson Community Centre Attendant.
“A lot of it has to do with the growth. Our community is in growth mode,” Perrault explained.
The Partnerships and Events Coordinator position will be an important job in helping towards the success of a variety of annual and new events occurring in the community.
“2019 is bringing a lot of events. But ’18 actually had a lot, and we’re anticipating more going forward. Having somebody that can quarterback all of those, having somebody that can be that lead will be a key position for our community and something that we are very proud and excited to be able to do this year. I think it’s timely and fitting and I know it will be a well served position.”
Other expenditures highlighted during the budget presentation include:
– To achieve community growth, the city will be spending $824,000 on planning and another $347,000 on land development for a total expenditure of $1.17 million or 5.16 per cent of their operating budget.
– Featured public works purchases include $200,000 for a mini excavator and $140,000 for a smooth drum roller.
The City will be spending $100,000 to install an outdoor electronic billboard as a communication tool to ratepayers and visitors.
“This billboard will be instrumental in promoting all of our city events and our city facilities such as programs, meetings, workshops, open houses, and also the happenings of the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games. This project is part of our strategy to further engage all of our public,” Perrault said.
– The Light and Power System Improvement Project will continue this year, with just over $550,000 spent to convert additional overhead power lines in the downtown core be converted to underground lines.
– Some engineering and site upgrades at a cost of $25,000 are required to launch a yard waste composting project at the East Landfill.
– The budget approved a refurbishing the Kinetic Park Grandstand at a cost of $165,000, with new steel siding, and funds to re-stain the bleacher seats and stands.
– The City will be spending $79,500 to develop an artifact exhibit in the last remaining World War II hangar at the Swift Current Airport to commemorate the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) Service Flying Training School which operated in Swift Current from 1941 to 1944.
– The SPCA pound will be receiving a $33,500 roof repair and other upgrades.
– The City has budgeted $2.26 million for this year’s asphalt and concrete program which will work on priority paved street, sidewalk and curbing rehabilitation. This past year the city finished 850 metres of full road rehabilitation and 700 metres of curb and sidewalk rehabilitation.
– They are also spending $150,000 to replace the stairs of the 2nd Ave. overpass which date to 1959.
– Planning is underway for a $550,000 intersection improvement at Chaplin St. W. and 1st Ave. N.W. which will upgrade the traffic lights and underground utilities, while improving the turning radius at the intersection and improving the sidewalks and paving the corner.