Council approves 4.3 per cent tax hike
Okotoks: Town saves for the future in 2014 budget
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Tuesday, Dec 10, 2013 04:18 pm
Okotoks town council voted to increase the Town’s share of property taxes for 2014, while also putting a little more in the piggy bank next year.
Council unanimously approved the Town’s 2014 operating budget in Monday afternoon, which includes a 4.3 per cent increase in the municipal share of property taxes. The increase will amount to another $79, or $6.58 per month, on the typical home.
Coun. Ed Sands said council is trying to balance taxes with the need to save for the future in next year’s budget.
“We still don’t think things are sizzling quite enough out there, that it’s not time for large tax increases,” said Sands, who is also chairman of the Town’s budget and finance committee.
The increase is higher than a 3.8 per cent hike previously considered by council. The final tax increase was raised to restore funding to the Town’s recapitalization fund, which was cut last year.
Council asked administration to find $100,000 in efficiencies over the next year to bring the increase down to 3.3 per cent last week, but they then approved an additional one per cent increase to restore $208,000 in funding to the recapitalization reserve. Recapitalization funds are to be used for future upgrades, repairs and replacement of infrastructure.
The budget includes projected revenues of $46.5 million and $40.2 million in planned expenditures, with the remaining going to debt payments and transfers to Town reserve funds. In total, the Town will put $4.18 million in its reserve funds next year, including a $2.2 million deposit in the recapitalization fund.
The budget maintains the Town’s existing service levels and includes small increases in key areas, including adding a part-time economic development position and $103,000 for a new RCMP officer to re-establish a Crime Reduction Unit.
With the decision to eliminate the population cap, Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said the Town needed to set aside more dollars for future needs.
“Having a healthy savings account, money in the bank in order to pay for things as they arise, is prudent fiscal management,” he said.
Council also approved the first phase of the Town’s capital budget, including $3.6 million to move ahead with the first phase of the expansion for the Town’s operations centre; $1.47 million for water main upgrades; $150,000 for an outdoor rink at John Paul II Collegiate, $200,000 for upgrades and an expansion of the Town’s skate park.
Robertson said the capital budget includes a number of items that will enhance service levels for residents in Okotoks.
Coun. Carrie Fischer said it’s a good move to have a limited capital budget just months after October’s municipal election.
“I like that we’re taking this year, it’s a brand new council, so I think it’s prudent to have the capital budget set the way it is this year to give this council time to set priorities for the next four years,” she said.
While taxes are going up, Fischer said they’re still comparable to other, similar sized communities and the increase was reasonable to be able to save money for the future.
“We’re still to the middle or lower than most of our comparable municipalities on the tax rate, I think a $79 tax increase to our residents isn’t significant,” she said.
Non-residential taxes rising
Taxes on non-residential properties will also be going up next year.
Council approved increasing the tax differential on non-residential properties from 33 per cent to 38 per cent. Under this rate, the tax rate on non-residential properties is 38 per cent higher than residential sites.
Sands said the Town’s non-residential differential is still well below comparable municipalities and council has been slowly raising the rate over several years to take pressure off homeowners.
“The average of communities of our size, like size, typical communities we compare to is 68 or 69 per cent,” he said. “It would be fair, to remain in line with other municipalities, that we would target that over several years.”
Sands said the Town was originally considering raising the differential to 40 per cent, but council chose to go with 38 per cent instead.