This year's Swift Current city budget passed earlier this evening by a 6-1 vote after several months of deliberations.
Property taxes will rise 2.15 per cent after the municipal budget labelled 'A New Horizon' was approved with only councillor John Wall in opposition.
"I made a commitment to our citizens who are on a fixed income to remember them as I made decisions like the one we made tonight, I cannot support a budget that increases the tax bill of our citizens especially our citizens on fixed income," Wall cited as his reason behind rejecting the budget.
According to council, two major factors led to the increase - nearly $490,000 extra being budgeted for a new City RCMP contract and a carbon tax hike taking effect on April 1 costing around $86,000.
"The only other way to find the $450,000 was to either borrow it or not do a project and if we didn't do a project then it's just like borrowing it," Swift Current Mayor Al Bridal said. "I mean or lay off four and a half or five people."
The increase is said to create an additional $418,250 for Swift Current to help the City overcome an inflation rate they've pegged at 6.3 per cent year-over-year to maintain current services and make some capital improvements.
"We've had a little bit of attrition at the City where we've saved a bit of money that way," Bridal told reporters following the budget release. "We're going ahead with most of the projects that were in the plan. There was some equipment we put off... I really don't think the citizens are going to notice a whole lot."
One major platform several councillors including the mayor ran on in the fall of 2020 was reducing the City's debt - which is expected to fall by the end of 2022 $5.75 million since the start of 2021.
"That's excluding the $14.5 million for SaskPower, that's strictly a business move," he said. "Our electric utility is going to pay $5.5 million back to the taxpayers this year... If we had absolutely no growth and no increase in rates - that $14.5 million will all be paid back with the profits from what we're taking over within 15 to 18 years."
City utility payers will experience a 3 per cent jump on their water and sewer utility this year - two per cent is standard from the City, however, to pay for a 2021 project, they'll need an extra per cent.
"We borrowed $3.6 million for the water treatment plant for the residual stuff we had to do for environmental purposes," he said. "That's to pay for the loan basically."
Rural water pipeline customers will be hit with a 20 per cent capital surcharge to pay for over $400,000 in infrastructure upgrades slated for this year.
"This year they've had some real water pressure issues," he said. "Another pump house is going in. It's the rural water users, they're not our taxpayers, they're customers of the City of Swift Current. The City taxpayer will not be paying towards the rural water users, if they need a pumphouse they pay for a pumphouse."
Bridal said the increase should cover 10-15 per cent of the project cost.
Capital upgrades will eat 20.4 per cent of the City's $83.3 million 2022 budget including a few big-ticket items.
- Future land acquisition at $1.7 million
- North Hill reservoir at $1.6 million
"Adding additional water flow and capacity in this area," he said. "Projects such as this are vital in reaching our new horizon as they allow us to better serve our existing customers and accommodate new ones as we grow."
- Deep utility and surface replacement on 10th Avenue Northeast in the 800 block from North Hill Drive to George Street at $1.25 million
- Inclusive playground installation on the southside (grant dependant) at $1.08 million
"We're very excited for the potential inclusive playground project," the first-term mayor said. "We look forward to working with citizens including children to design this new playground that will be accessible for all."
- Aquatic Centre new roof at $800,000
Bridal was hoping the 2022 budget could have been released to the public before the year began but the first draft that council saw sent their way back in the fall wasn't in the cards.
"I think this was one of the toughest budgets I've ever seen you [admin] work on since I've been on council," third-term councillor Pat Friesen said. "You managed to work through it, you managed to find efficiencies, and you really listened to council and grasped where we were all coming from."
The majority of council spoke after Wall objected the tabled budget, sharing they supported him being in opposition and seeing the numbers in a different light than they did.
"Though I share councillor Wall's angst with the 2.15 per cent increase, I don't think we could have done it any better," councillor Tom Christiansen said. "I'm happy we're paying down debt. I think that everything that got thrown at us... It would have been very easy to say just we can just keep going with the debt a little bit and leave it as a 0 per cent increase, I don't think that would have been fair."
Bridal said his aim for the 2023 budget release will be in December of this year if all goes well.