North Battleford Mayor, Ryan Bater, didn’t come back from the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) convention particularly enthused about the state of the province. So much so he is warning that additional property tax increases could be on the way.
“I came back with more questions and concerns,” Bater said.
According to the mayor, there were two major takeaways from the convention North Battlefords residents should be aware of. First is the existing formula for revenue sharing will be continue for at least the next two years, but more importantly, municipalities don’t know where they stand when it comes to grants-in-lieu of Crown corporations.
“Last year we lost the royalties, but maintained some of the payments in lieu of property taxation,” Bater said. “Those could be amended this year. In addition, they capped the losses at 30 per cent of what the revenue sharing was last year. Our losses were 43 per cent, but because they capped it we didn’t lose all of it. There is talk of lifting that cap though.”
Last year when the elimination of grants-in-lieu was announced in the provincial budget, city council had to make additional cuts and add three per cent property tax on top of the three they budgeted for to balance the books. Bater said depending on what happens in this provincial budget, residents could see the same additional taxation.
“This year we have already finished budget deliberations and already given the mandate for a three per cent property tax increase. This was after significant cuts in expenses. If there is going to be further losses from the province it will be over and above that three per cent. In other words, if we’re not able to make corresponding expense cuts, we may be looking at an additional property tax increase.”
Bater said that’s why council was very clear the budget wasn’t really done until the provincial budget is announced on April 10.
He added the situation is particularly frustrating because the royalties that were discontinued by the province are still being collected by the province.
“If a resident of North Battleford looks at their Sask Energy bill, it will say ‘City of North Battleford surcharge’ on it, which is false because the City of North Battleford isn’t getting a penny of that. It creates a misconception out there from Sask Energy customers that the money is being remitted to the city when it isn’t.”
Bater said the province is essentially breaching a contract made in 1954, where North Battleford agreed to sell its distribution systems in exchange for the royalties. He added other municipalities like Meadow Lake didn’t make the same deal and therefore haven’t been affected by the provinces decision.
The mayor added premier Scott Moe indicated grants-in-lieu and the royalty contracts will be discussed within cabinet and caucus prior to the budget.
“We are going to be anxiously waiting for the decision, but in the meantime we still have city business to tend to. It becomes very difficult planning wise to move forward on a number of our initiatives, but we will be tendering projects here very shortly.”
On Twitter @realgreghiggins
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