The draft budget has been released for the Town of Battleford and it calls for a small tax increase of one per cent.
The budget was presented by Director of Finance David Gillan at a special meeting of council Dec. 5. It is a balanced budget, consisting of both operations (general fund and utilities) and the five-year capital plan.
Here is a rundown of highlights from the budget document, which is posted on the Town’s website at www.battleford.ca:
ONE PER CENT INCREASE – Town administration is proposing a one per cent increase in general property taxation, which will generate new revenue to the town of approximately $30,000.
The impact to the average assessed residential property will be approximately $16 per year; for the average assessed commercial property, the impact is approximately $31 per year. Properties with higher taxable assessment will pay more; those with less, will pay less.
Town administration also has made a recommendation to reduce the property tax prepayment discount. The discount had already been reduced in 2019 resulting in savings of $14,000 to the town; the proposal is to reduce it even further which will save the town $10,000 this coming year.
The proposal is to set the January 2020 discount at six per cent, February at five per cent, March at four per cent, and April and May at zero per cent. That compares to discounts of seven, six, five, three and zero per cent for those same months in 2019.
For recycling fees, the recommendation is to increase those fees as of Jan. 1 to $16/bin/quarter. That is up from the current $15.75/bin/quarter.
Overall, the general fund budget is projecting an overall revenue increase of 2.7 percent, or $155,000. Included in this projection is the one percent general tax increase, the discount adjustment savings of $10,000, and projected increases to the Municipal Operating Grant of $26,000, interest income of $30,000, recreational fees of $30,000, and other revenues of $29,000. The Municipal Operating Grant is revenue sharing money from the province and amounts to an increase of almost three percent.
UTILITIES: NO CHANGES – For utilities, no rate increases are recommended for 2020. According to the budget document, the Utility Fund is projecting a balanced budget where the projected capital spend or save in 2020 is funded by prior reserves, grants and the projected operating surplus.
In terms of revenue, water fees revenues are projected unchanged at $860,000, sewer fees at $436,000, and infrastructure fees at $400,000. There is a decline in the category of “other revenue” from $75,000 to $49,000, for an overall slight decrease in revenues.
A decline is expected in 2020 Utilities Fund operating expenses. Those are projected to decrease roughly $220,000, or approximately 19 per cent compared to the 2019 Budget. Expenses are budgeted at $936,612, compared to $1,157,322 the previous year.
Subtracting that from revenues, it means a significant surplus for utilities of $808,388, just in time to help fund the town’s $5.3 million sewer lagoon project.
Utilities reserves are at $1.3 million and there are $3.86 million in external grants going to the lagoon project.
“If we didn’t have those grants we’d be plugging a big hole here,” said Gillan. The department is now able to fund its portion of that major lagoon project, without having to obtain a loan from the general fund.
CAPITAL PROJECTS FOR 2020 – There are a number of capital items on the books for 2020. Items earmarked for spending in 2020 include the $407,000 street rehabilitation on the 200 block of 23rd Street including traffic calming (this is a local improvement with 40 percent recovery from property owners); $120,000 for conclusion of Opera House consulting work; $100,000 for replacement of campground playground equipment, $80,000 for a fire department command vehicle replacement, as well as $75,000 arena upgrades (including LED lighting and heat reclamation), some street rehabilitation on 3rd Avenue from 35th-36th St. ($65,000), green space development on 15th Street ($75,000), purchase of a one ton truck, some sidewalk replacement ($50,000) and an asphalt overlay on walking trails ($25,000).
Money will be put away in savings in 2020 on the following items for future spending: the cemetery expansion, large scale arena upgrades, playground and park equipment; replacement of the town garbage truck; Tot Lot upgrades; a new cold storage building; and public works roof replacement.
For the utilities fund capital spending, the big project there, as mentioned previously, are Sewer Lagoon upgrades estimated at $5.3 million. With $3.8 million in federal and provincial funding coming through, that reduces the Town’s contribution to $1.4 million. The town’s portion will be funded by prior year reserves of $1.15 million, and from the projected surplus in utilities in 2020. No loan will be necessary from the General Fund.
During his budget presentation Gillian cited the securing of $3.8 million of provincial and federal grants for the lagoon project as a major accomplishment, saving the town from having to cover the entire cost.
COUNCIL DISCUSSION – On the one percent increase, council quickly came to a consensus that it was needed for the projects that needed to be done.
Shelley Boutin-Gervais said it was “quite fair” considering the work that is going to be done. “If you want to keep it down moving forward you’ve got to get projects done.”
Kevin Russell said he would have preferred it to be a zero increase, but cited the work that needed to be done and said “we’ve got to keep moving forward.”
Judy Pruden said she would have been okay with a two percent increase, but one was fine.
“If they can make it work with the one per cent, let’s do it,” was the reaction of Susan McLean-Tandy.
“If we don’t do it for one year we have to play catch-up,” said Doug Laing, who also cited the need to get projects done in supporting the increase.
“We need to move the town forward,” was the reaction of Mayor Ames Leslie, as he also signed off on the one per cent increase.
Council will still have more time to reflect on the budget before making a final decision. The budget is due to return to council Dec. 16 for likely adoption.