It's that time of year again, the time to discuss the whats, wheres, whens and hows of the city's fiscal allocation. That is to say it's budget time. Always a difficult, and sometimes contentious, process the yearly budget battle struggles to keep up with the increased cost of services and the desire to make the tax burden as small as possible. Council consistently tries new things to make the process as smooth and as transparent as possible, and sometimes there's success and sometimes there isn't. But here we are again, and here we go again, with the deliberations for the 2014 budget.
The details of the 2014 budget thus far were outlined in a press release from city hall today. By the numbers, the proposed 2014 budget comes out to $192,865,918, which is a 3.36 per cent increase over last year. Interestingly, the city's decided to de-emphasize the need for new spending in this budget, so the total 3.36 per cent increase accounts for 2.73 per cent to maintain current programs and services, with an additional 0.63 per cent for investments in "initiatives designed to streamline and optimize City operations."
How does it break down in a dollar figure for the average household? According to the city, 3.36 per cent equals an average property tax increase of $107 for average residential taxpayers with a property valued on average at $311,136. Combined with the proposed increases to water rates, which comes up for approval at council next week, the total average impact on your tax bill comes out to $134.
So what are your getting for that extra $134 per year? Mostly some organizational things and the continuation of new programs currently underway. Programs like the Affordable Bus Pass, the Corporate Technology Strategic Plan, the Employee Engagement Strategy, the Integrated Operational Review (IOR) and the Urban Forest Management Plan will continue or be expanded in 2014 under the current budget plan. As for what new spending there is, the city is looking to follow up this year's organizational assessment with the hiring of three new positions: a contract Program Manager, Business Process Improvement Specialist and a Timekeeping Review. There's also proposed changes to recreation fees, a $15,000 increase through a new surcharge for facility rentals with commercial users paying 10 per cent increase over non-profit organizations.
Overall, it seems like a straightforward election year budget: very little new spending, maintaining of current services and an attempt to minimize any tax increase. Public input will be heard on November 28, and council will vote on the budget December 5.