Editorial - No surprises as City unveils 2021 budget

Nearly half a year after the process began, Yorkton Council brought its 2021 Capital and Operating Budgets before an open meeting Monday.

The dual budgets don’t contain a lot of surprises with a zero per cent increase the highlight, and not unexpected given that Mayor Mitch Hippsley had championed the idea of not increasing taxes in last fall’s municipal election, a position favoured by a number of Council candidates as well.

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The vision was that holding the line on property taxes, at least the municipal portion, would  help taxpayers deal with the impact of the now year-long COVID-19 pandemic.

The relief though is rather limited.

In 2020 taxes rose 2.9 per cent, and at the time that document was unveiled the City noted the total impact of the tax increase would be approximately a $5.00 increase per month per household, or a total of $160 per month tax bill for the average Yorkton home.

So, this year with zero increase, the average homeowner can purchase a cup of coffee a week on the City, depending on where they purchase the beverage.

What was interesting was that within the budget the Gallagher Centre levy will be replaced with a recreational facility levy and funds will be placed in reserves for future capital recreation related projects. 

The levy was instituted as a way to fund payments on the major expansion of the Gallagher Centre, and was slated to come off the tax bills when those payments were done.

Eliminating it at this time might have been seen as another good way to offer some relief in the midst of a pandemic.

But, on this one, and frankly to its credit, Council tweaked where the money collected will go, and left the levy in place.

There are certainly places to spend capital dollars when looking at recreational facilities including the current needs of a new Deer Park clubhouse, and renovation/replacement of the Kinsmen Arena. 

In this case keeping the levy in place to create some reserve funds for some projects on the horizon trumped the need for COVID relief, although in so doing seems to sends something of a mixed message - continuing a levy for recreation is OK in a pandemic, increasing taxes to fix roads and sidewalks was not.

But that is what happened as in the process of holding the line on property taxes this Council paused what had been a  normal one per cent annual increase in taxes to fund replacement of aging City infrastructure, much of which is over 100 years old.

“We recommend that further increases to capital budget be considered in future years, as the City has a large amount of aging infrastructure and our annual capital spending is nowhere near enough to have reasonable replacement cycles ... we refer to this spending gap as the “infrastructure deficit”.  For example, our road replacement cycle at current spend is close to 100 years, and much of our water and sewer network is well over 100 years as a replacement cycle at current capital spending amounts. Every year we have an infrastructure deficit, we fall farther behind and the burden to “catch up” is going to be that much more,” explained Director of Finance with the City Ashley Stradeski’s report to Council Monday.

Now it can be argued increasing one per cent or not does little to address a deficit that is as massive as the infrastructure one is, but at some point residents will have to pay to catch up, or face some significant repair bills to keep aged infrastructure functional.

In the end the budget simply adjusted operations and capital to achieve the goal of no tax increases, and it did so without a major shake-up in services.

As Stradeski noted during Monday’s meeting, “this is a budget that is very much status quo.”

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