Proposed tax hike to go to council
Okotoks: Three per cent residential increase considered
Wednesday, Nov 22, 2017 06:00 am
The table is set for town council to vote on a proposed residential tax increase for 2018 next month.
Okotoks Finance and Budget committee approved a final draft of the Town’s 2018 operating budget, in addition to long-range operating and capital plans after three days of deliberations last week.
The budget includes a proposed three per cent increase on residential taxes – another $68, or $5.63 per month – to the municipal component of property taxes on the typical residence (identified as a house valued at about $450,000).
Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said council could still make changes, but he’s willing to support the increase.
“I do think that three per cent at this point is responsible,” he said.
The budget does not include any changes to the non-residential tax rate, which will remain at 42 per cent higher than the residential rate.
The 2018 budget proposes $56 million with $48.7 million in spending, as well as saving $4.3 million in Town reserve funds and repaying $3.2 million in debt.
Other highlights include moving forward with $290,000 for an on-call bus transit service and $2.7 million to replace the Laurie Boyd Bridge with a larger structure.
Snow removal will be expanded to include snow clearing on all primary pathways in the community seven days a week.
The budget also proposes increasing town staffing by 6.75 full-time equivalent workers, including four full-time firefighters, at a cost of approximately $670,000.
The new firefighters will staff the south fire hall, which is currently served by volunteer firefighters. Robertson said the firefighters would start in March if approved.
“We can get the south fire hall up and running and fully manned for safety,” he said. “It addresses response times moving south of Highway 7. It’s important that we be able to fully service our land as we build out.”
For the first time, the budget includes five-year operating plan and a 10-year capital plan outlining potential projects over the next decade.
Robertson said it gives council an idea of potential projects it may need to consider in the coming years.
“The idea for this is to get an idea of upcoming things,” he said.
Robertson said it will be adjusted each year as projects may be added or removed as required.
The 10-year plan does not include a new multi-purpose recreation centre, though it does include a performing arts centre. While it’s on the list, he said specific details regarding a potential arts centre are yet to be determined.
Coun. Tanya Thorn said she likes the inclusion of longer-term operating and capital plans.
“It really gives us a look at what our financial picture is, to evaluate our financial health and what direction we’re going,” she said.
Thorn said the budget strikes the right balance with the proposed tax increase. She said it is a tough year, but to bring the tax increase any lower would have meant service cuts.
“Nobody likes to pay taxes,” said Thorn. “I have a philosophy that you can put off what you need today until tomorrow but somebody’s going to pay for it tomorrow.”
She said it will also allow the Town to increase services, including snow clearing, transit and staffing the south fire hall.
“In my opinion those are needed services,” said Thorn.
“Our residents have told us they want those services.”
Committee chairperson, Coun. Matt Rockley, said he would have preferred to see the proposed tax increase brought down closer to 1.4 per cent.
He said this was the rate of the Municipal Price Index (a rating of inflation as applied to municipalities) for 2017 and indications are the rate will be relatively unchanged for 2018.
“My overall philosophy on the Town budget, my preference is to try to always keep any tax increases at the same rate as inflation,” said Rockley.
He said the budget is not final and council can still make changes.
Rockley looks to the proposed staffing additions to potentially find savings.
He said hiring more firefighters for the south fire hall is essential to maintain emergency response times, but Rockley wants to review additional planned hiring to see if it’s necessary.
“I think that we need to take a really close look at the rest of the positions that are being proposed for new positions in 2018 to keep the tax rate increase as low as possible,” he said.