It’s looking like Moose Jaw residents are going to have to dig deeper in their pockets this year after city council gave initial approval to a 5.01 per cent property tax increase and a 15 per cent water utility rate hike on Tuesday.
The city had initially proposed a 4.05 per cent property tax increase but during Tuesday’s budget committee meeting, council approved the 5.01 per cent increase in a 5 to 1 vote.
Councillor Brian Swanson was not present for the vote after excusing himself from the meeting.
“We started with a baseline of 4.05 per cent and we’ve been saying that this is the result of the first three months of last year’s provincial budget impacts” Moose Jaw Mayor Fraser Tolmie said following Tuesday’s vote. “So we’re under the one per cent for our own tax increase, and if we round it up to one per cent, that one per cent will actually go to some new employees that will help with the infrastructure challenges we’re facing in our city. So one GIS (geographic information systems) technician and one in the planning department.”
Some councillors argued that the city should look at reducing services instead of defaulting to tax and fee increases. City staff warned that if these high costs are deferred, they’ll only continue to snowball.
Council also approved a 15 per cent water utility tax increase and a six per cent sanitary sewer utility increase. Residents currently pay about $102 a month for those services, but with the rate hikes it will be about $113 monthly. Council voted in favour of the utility rate hikes in a 4 to 3 vote. The rate increase would take effect on May 1.
Part of the water utility increase is for upgrades to the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant. The city’s 100-year-old cast iron water mains are crumbling and in dire need of replacement.
“The 15 per cent is to ensure that we get water to our citizens, to make sure that they’ve got clean, potable water,” Tolmie said. “We need to upgrade the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant and the lines that come down and that’s 20 kilometres away. So there’s necessary upgrades that we need to make on those facilities because if we don’t and they break down, then the people have no water and we don’t have a reserve. So it’s not a necessary evil, it’s a necessity for the citizens of Moose Jaw. We’ve got to make this happen, it’s got to get done.”
The city has been dealing with an infrastructure deficit in addition to provincial funding cuts, making it difficult to address their aging and deteriorating infrastructure. Tolmie says infrastructure upgrades have been put off for more than 30 years.
“Yes, they are challenging times. We were elected to make difficult decisions in difficult times,” Tolmie said. “But there are positives that are coming out of it. And that’s what our role is… to lead this community.”
Moose Jaw City Council will give final approval to the budget and rate increase on Feb. 26.