Airdrie feeling fiscal sustainability strain

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City staff presented the results of the Alberta Municipal Affairs (AMA) 2016 Financial Indicator Report to council Dec. 18, which showed while home and business owners in Airdrie continue to get good value for money, overall satisfaction with quality of life is beginning to decline.

Dorian Kachur, manager strategic business services, said Airdrie continues to rank favourably when compared to other Alberta municipalities – the City continues to have the lowest net municipal property taxes per capita when compared to all other Alberta mid-size cities – but there are some concerns looming on the horizon.

“The widening gap between Airdrie and other municipalities is evident. Net municipal property taxes per capita are 39 per cent lower, net equalized tax rates are 40 per cent lower, long-term municipal debit (is) 39 per cent lower and some pressure cracks are starting to show up in our data,” she said. “There’s been a drop in the quality of life and quality and efficiency of services measures that we use on our citizens’ survey in 2017.”

The Citizen Satisfaction index was at its lowest in eight years in 2017, at 3.68 out of five. A survey of City employees showed their satisfaction with workload dropped by six per cent in 2017.

Kachur said continuing to rely on growth to provide for infrastructure and service needs is a concern of staff.

“Will we have the ability to continue to sustain service delivery without burdening residents with major tax increases down the road,” she said. “With spending already very low comparatively, it’ll increasingly be a challenge to provide accustomed levels of service if growth levels off and revenues are insufficient to fund operations. There is a real concern that Airdrie might be falling too far behind.”

Kachur said staff is employing a number of strategies to mitigate that risk, including the development of a fiscal framework to provide direction to council and the development of an asset management system.

Mayor Peter Brown said in a press release that council was committed to working with staff to manage the risks and has done so by contributing to the tax stabilization reserve within the 2018 budget.

“As a council, we are committed to looking for ways to maintain our high value for tax dollars while recognizing the pressure of being fiscally sustainable over the long term,” Brown said. “With the tax stabilization fund and small tax increase, along with other programs to ensure efficient services, our goal is to continue to keep costs low for Airdrie residents.”

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