Lacombe looking at 1.4 per cent property tax increase ahead of budget deliberations

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Lacombe residents will likely be looking at a 1.4 per cent property tax increase in 2020, according to an early draft budget presented to city council during their Oct. 15 meeting.

The increase aligns with the current Alberta Consumer Price Index (CPI), and will see the average house in Lacombe valued at $380,000 taxed an additional $42.07 in 2020 as part of a $44,658,951 balanced budget.

“We were actually really happy we were able to present a budget that does meet all of council’s policies and continues the service levels residents have come to expect in the City of Lacombe,” said CAO Matthew Goudy.

“There are some slight increases, balanced out by the loss of the bus service, but overall the city is in a fairly health positions – our reserves continue to grow, our budget and utility rate increases are inflation or less….As we look into three-year budgeting, we’re projecting out that we’re putting ourselves in a position to meet that inflation maximum target from council in the future, as well.”

The budget factors in the discontinuation of the BOLT bus service, as well as the addition of Automated Traffic Enforcement (photo radar), support for the Lacombe Performing Arts Centre Foundation, and online permitting access.

It does not, as of yet, include decisions on requests made during budget presentations by various groups in the city, which will come during budget deliberations.

A 1.4 per cent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for city staff, council and police administration has also been included, as well as a 1.75 per cent increase for police service members, as per their collective agreement.

There will be an increase of $2.6 million to the city’s historical savings through transfers to reserves, and $1.82 million of new debt, primarily to support development on the north side of the community, including the Henners Pond Stormwater Outlet.

There will be a slight increase to utilities, with an average house consuming 18 cubic metres of water seeing an increase of $1.73 per month, for an overall average budget impact, including utilities and the tax rate increase, of $5.23 per month per household.

Municipal Sustainability Initiative

The City of Lacombe has already prepared for the expected decrease in Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding from the province, and factored in a 25 per cent decrease to be on the safe side.

In the provincial budget presented last week, the UCP government pledged to maintain MSI for 2019-20, then reduce it by $94 million in 2021 – a decrease of 3.2 per cent, followed by a $142 million in 2022. While those decreases have resulted in some municipalities crying foul, Goudy says Lacombe is in a good position to deal with those decreases.

“In the past there has been frustration amongst residents there’s communities with lower tax rates like the City of Calgary, but, of course, that puts us in a much more resilient position than when your sole source of funding in some of those communities is reduced. The city is nowhere near as reliant on MSI as Calgary or Ponoka,” he said.

The city is backing the Alberta Urban Municipality Association (AUMA)’s advocacy to see a more predictable funding model for municipalities, which Goudy says would equip municipalities around the province better to absorb decreases.

Capital budget

The early draft of the provisional capital budget is expected to be $11.7 million which includes 49 projects.

The biggest project is $3.8 million set aside for a public works building. An additional $1.2 million is also earmarked for public works land.

The current building, according to Goudy, is costing the city more “money to keep that building alive as it stands today,” than to replace it. He estimated the city has spent well over $500,000 in maintenance and renovations in the last two years.

“Right now, there’s an opportunity with where real estate prices, commercial construction, and renovation prices are at that the city could participate with local contractors and give great value and hopefully stimulate the local economy a bit by purchasing and renovating an existing building rather than building from scratch,” he said.

The other major project on the books are upgrades to Northstar Drive at Valley Crescent, which includes the replacement of curb and gutters, as well as the road base, surface and water, sanitary sewer and storm mains. The project is expected to cost just shy of $1.4 million in 2020.

Budget deliberations will continue Oct. 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and are open to the public. If needed, deliberations will continue Oct. 30 from 4:30 p.m. untnil 9 p.m.

Details on the provisional draft budgets can be viewed as part of the Oct. 15 agenda package here: Deliberations will be streamed via the City of Lacombe’s Youtube channel.