Why does it seem that when we start talking about a cool new festival or keeping a new event or even just providing the services we all want, the conversation automatically turns to tax increase? Why can’t we figure out how to have nice things with the money we already receive from taxpayers?
If I were to create the city’s budget from scratch, these are the things I would consider.
I would invest in a robust bus-based transit system to build ridership.
We saw how well transit worked for the Heritage Classic. But for everyday transit users, every day is “game day.” Our transit system should reflect that need.
The new Valley Line is great - fast, clean, welcoming. But the massive investment in LRT is part of the reason we cannot put proper bus service in Keswick or Windermere.
I would emphasize small scale recreation opportunities across the city - splash pads and skateboard rinks and basketball courts. Small scale, cost effective prototypes for new rec centres.
I would support our current crop of sports events and add more. Events like triathlon, beach volleyball, cycling championships. These events bring huge economic returns on our investments and provide an opportunity to celebrate our river valley and open spaces.
I would focus on those primary services we all expect from our City - snow clearing and grass cutting. Road maintenance. Energy retrofits of our existing buildings. Functional new projects delivered on time and budget, instead of costly, elaborate designs.
City Administration is proposing a 7.09% tax increase for 2024 - 2.1% more than was approved one year ago. My previous blog described how ill-considered this increase is.
There are cost pressures, no question. Increased salary and utility costs. Construction inflation.
And there are revenue reductions. Transit fares. Franchise fees.
Of note, the utility rates that are approved by Council’s Utility Committee are all relatively flat. Waste collection increases $0.44 / month, water service increases are modest.
So what can we do?
City Administration has forecasted a $42M shortfall and budgeted repayment of that $42M in 2024. But the City is allowed to repay deficits over 3 years. We could reduce the $42M repayment to $14M and reduce the tax increase by $28M.
Delays in the Valley Line opening mean that the City saved a lot of monthly operating payments. Lets take $15M of those savings. For now, not forever.
Each year EPCOR pays the City a dividend, and this year that dividend has increased by $8M to $193M.
$28M + $15M + $8M = $51M found, versus a $42M shortfall. 7.09% tax increase becomes 4.6%.
A couple of these moves are contrary to Council policy. Found money on transit projects is supposed to be reinvested in transit. Council policy is to repay deficits in one year, not three.
But we are in exceptional times, and that means exceptions to policy when it makes sense.
Three simple moves. They don’t pay for all the stuff we need or the fun stuff we want. But maybe with a little more effort, we can find some more money to do more of the nice things. I am going to keep looking, and I appreciate any ideas you have. Email me at [email protected] to share your thoughts.
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