Weyburn city council tabled the 2012 budget, after some councillors asked for a one-per-cent increase instead of a zero increase budget proposed by city administration.
The budget will be brought back for a vote at the next council meeting on Monday, May 28, and the public is being asked to forward their views on how council should proceed.
If passed as proposed, a zero-increase budget will set out $17.5 million in spending by the city to maintain its services, and it will include putting aside $1.2 million into reserves for future projects or needs. City manager Bob Smith noted there is a nine-per-cent increase in spending, but there is also a nine-per-cent increase in revenues that offsets that increase.
A one-per-cent increase, as argued by some members of council, would only add another $60,000 to city coffers, but is being proposed to give the city more of a cushion in reserves.
Even with a zero-increase, taxpayers will still see an increase in their tax bill, as the hospital levy will add $140 to the bill.
Broken down by department, the police department will see a 5.4 per cent increase to bring their budget to $2.2 million. The department wants to continue with new strategies to help keep the city safe.
These initiatives include increased traffic enforcement, increased visibility of police officers in the schools, more foot and bike patrols, and increased interaction with the public.
The Fire Department will get a 2.2 per cent increase to bring their budget to $730,000, partly to help pay for new trucks which were purchased last year, and to increase training and the salaries for volunteers and career fire fighters.
The Engineering department will get a 13.6 per cent increase, bringing their budget to $670,000; this includes a $50,000 contribution to a new flood reserve, cost-sharing on paving at the airport, and extra revenues from the building department.
Public works and parks will see a 7.5 per cent increase to bring their budget to $2.5 million, including many projects carried over from last year (due to the flooding). The pavement patching program is being doubled, partially to deal with flood damages; the wheelchair ramp program is continuing; there will be a new landfill office, and a new roof on the roundhouse where large city equipment is stored; the second boardwalk will be built out to the Soo Line Museum along the river; and new traffic lights will be installed at the intersection of Government Road and Railway Avenue.
Leisure Services will get a seven-per-cent increase to bring their budget to $2.3 million. This will include new lighting and an electrical upgrade for the indoor pool, upgrades to the former location of the Turner Museum, and a five-per-cent increase to the regional library budget.
Economic Development will continue its focus on community planning with the Planning Commission, and will continue the city's partnership with SEREDA; there will be a grant of $100,000 for the new football field for Minor Football; a commitment of $60,000 for the city's centennial in 2013; a $300,000 payment for the city's commitment to the Triple C Centre; and the startup of a new Affordable home ownership program in partnership with the provincial government.
In addition, the city will be paying about $350,000 for its share of the annual Local Improvement program of street recapping and sidewalk replacements.
Looking at the city budget as a whole, the engineering, public works and parks component accounts for 37.2 per cent of the budget or $3.1 million; Leisure accounts for 28.1 per cent or $1.5 million for operations and $900,000 for capital payments; the police account for 26.1 per cent or $2.2 million; and fire for 8.6 per cent or $628,000 for operations and $94,000 in capital payments.
In commenting on the budget, Coun. Bill Rudachyk noted he has seen 21 budgets now, and said he didn't feel comfortable with another zero-increase.
He said he shares the view of the Chamber of Commerce that there should be more set aside to cushion unforeseen needs which may or may not arise.
"I have the same feelings," added Coun. Nancy Styles. "It would be wonderful to have a zero increase, but it's incumbent on us to be responsible. I just think it would be better to have a small increase and put that money into reserves."
Coun. Winston Bailey agreed also, saying while people are concerned about the hospital levy which will go on this year, he feels it would be responsible for the city to also add a one-per-cent increase to the taxes.
Coun. Rob Stephanson was incredulous at the suggestion, and said he would not support any increase when there doesn't need to be one.
He pointed out that the city "harped and harped" on the province to get more funding which the province then gave them from revenue sharing. He also noted the city is putting money into reserves of $1.2 million, and failed to see how adding $60,000 more to that is going to help.
"I don't get it," he said, pointing out that the zero-increase last year was proven to be sustainable and workable, even in a year of extreme flooding, and said, "I will never support a one-per-cent increase for the sake of doing it."
For his part, Coun. Dick Michel said a zero-increase is very attractive, "but two years in a row, I have trouble doing that. There's a lot of unforeseen things that can take place."
Mayor Debra Button sided with Coun. Stephanson, pointing out that the city did receive help from the province in the form of more funding, and the city is being responsible in putting money away in reserves.
"This is a sustainable approach to budgeting," she said, adding, "I believe the timing could not be better for a zero-increase. We achieved it in a year of a flood."
Coun. Rudachyk suggested tabling the budget to allow time for the public to tell the city how they would like the budget to proceed.
The city's pace of construction is continuing, but has started to lag behind last year's record-setting pace.
In the Building Department report as of the end of April, the city had issued a total of 49 building permits worth $5.645 million. This compares to a year ago when there were 55 permits issued worth $10.3 million.
So far this year, the construction includes eight single-family dwelling units, and 16 multiple-family dwellings, worth a total of $3.27 million.
The construction projects so far this year also include 10 commercial projects worth $1.3 million; two industrial projects worth $360,000; five municipal projects worth $425,000; and 32 residential projects worth $3.565 million.