|Didsbury taxpayers need to brace themselves for a 2021 property tax hike. Administration presented the 2021 draft Operating Budget at the March 13 Regular Council meeting sporting a 2.06% increase in revenues generated through property tax. The Operating Budget has been referred to the Performance Evaluation Committee for service level examination and a recommendation to Council. At a time when so many residents and businesses are financially suffering due to the pandemic, it is impossible to justify an increase in the burden shouldered by Didsbury taxpayers.|
In a year when the Town of Didsbury has received $538,432 from the provincial government in the form of a MOST (Municipal Operating Support Transfer) Grant it is hard to imagine that the Town requires $96,143 more than was needed in the 2020 budget. But maybe there are reasons for it.
Certainly the MOST Grant has been provided to offset lost revenues due to COVID and as a result, the Town is somewhat limited as to where those funds can be used. There is no doubt the pandemic resulted in reduced user fees but should have also resulted in correspondingly reduced expenses. Requests from community organizations who have suffered because of being prevented from holding regular activities, events and functions are asking the Didsbury taxpayer for relief. While there are several divisional reductions in revenues, the overall revenue cited in the 2021 draft operating budget shows a $293,509 increase in revenue over 2020's budget. One would think that with a revenue increase of that magnitude, a hike in property tax would be completely unnecessary.
But then you start to examine the expense side of the 2021 draft operating budget and right off the bat you see a $166,250 budgetary increase in salaries and wages at a time when most businesses are reducing salary and wage expenses just to keep afloat. Maybe even more alarming is the $402,486 increase in wages and salaries over the 2020 actual expense. One has to wonder what this is saying to Didsbury taxpayers when residents in our community have lost their jobs, have been temporarily laid off, have had their work hours drastically reduced or operate a business with a drastically reduced revenue stream.
At the April 13 Regular Council meeting Councillor Poggemiller implored Council to waive utility fees for food and beverage establishments in town. What Councillor Poggemiller asked for was Council's support to pay the water, wastewater and solid waste (garbage) bills for all Didsbury restaurants evidently unaware that the Town does not provide commercial solid waste (garbage) service. Although the actual cost of this concept to the taxpayers of Didsbury is unknown, it was Councillor Poggemiller's expectation (due to the Provincial restrictions being stepped back to a revised version of Step 1 of the Province's Recovery Plan) that Didsbury taxpayers should shoulder this subsidization. With giveaways of your tax dollars like this, it is no surprise that Didsbury taxpayers should expect a hike in their tax bill this year.
And that's not all. Recommendations from the Performance Evaluation Committee (Councillors Poggemiller, Baswick and Engel) propose budgeting for a $5000 expenditure for expanded Christmas lighting and a $15,000 expenditure for a Canada Day fireworks celebration primarily to lift the spirits of the community. This alone represents a half a point increase in the property tax mill rate to finance these 2 items. While this may be a worthwhile consideration in a normal year where the economy of the province and Albertans is somewhat stable, extravagant luxuries like this are hardly appropriate for a time when the pandemic is still profoundly affecting residents and businesses in our community.
Looking further into the 'impossible to justify' category, the Town enjoyed a $148,000 operating budget surplus for the 2020 tax year. What this means is that the 2020 operating budget over-estimated the amount of property tax needed to functionally operate the Town. Essentially, the Town charged the taxpayers of Didsbury $148,000 more than they needed to. To effect a 1% reduction in the revenue from tax from the 2020 operating budget for the 2021 tax year would require a reduction in the revenue from tax of only $46,761, less than a 1/3 of the 2020 operating budget surplus and precipitating absolutely no reduction in services whatsoever.
And in the 'put your money where your mouth is' category, at the April 13 Regular Council Meeting I made the following motion:
- Move that Council direct administration to adjust the 2021 Operating Budget as follows:
- Reduce the Tax Support from $4,772,317 to $4,629,412 representing a 1% decrease in revenue from tax from 2020, and
- The total Operating expenses be adjusted accordingly to minimize the reduction in services, and
- The draft operating budget be referred to the Strategic Planning Committee and the Performance Evaluation Committee to explore levels of service for further discussion and recommendation, and
- Adjust the salaries and wages to reflect the Municipal Internship program and remainder of salaries and wage increase goes to the Roads Rehabilitation Program, and
- Apply the newly announced Gas Tax Fund (that was doubled for this year) to the road rehabilitation program specifically looking at 20th street (post office) and 19th Street (JDs), and
- Explore ways for the Rosebud Valley Campground to increase revenues, and
- Adjust/reduce the transfer to water reserves (currently proposed at $500,000) to arrive at a breakeven situation (or as minimal increase as possible) for cost of water increase to be balanced by lowering of wastewater/solid waste
The motion was defeated, that is to say the majority of Councillors voted against the motion.
Were it my druthers, I am advocating a 1% reduction in tax as opposed to the proposed 2.06% increase. But then, I'm only one vote in seven.