Saskatoon mayoral candidate Don Atchison says he thinks city council doesn’t need to lay off staff to achieve a zero-per cent tax increase in 2021.
During a campaign announcement Friday, Atchison said if elected, he’ll also honour collectively bargained salary increases for city employees. To negate a tax increase, he said the nearly $10 million hole in the city’s operating budget could be filled largely through reserves for capital projects.
“Things have changed in the last 10 months since that budget was originally passed,” Atchison told media, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He specifically pointed to the reserve funds for a new landfill, saying a one-year deferral on the project would knock 0.87 per cent off the proposed tax hike.
“The landfill’s not going anymore, so does it matter if we wait one more year?” he asked.
Property taxes are currently slated to increase 3.87 per cent in 2021. A homeowner with an assessed property value of $371,000 will pay $75.35 more per year.
Atchison incorrectly cited the preliminary increase as 3.54 per cent in a news release and during his press conference.
“If it’s 3.87, I guess we’re just going to have to work a little bit harder to get there then,” he said.
Atchison acknowledged the mayor only gets one vote on council, but said he is “firmly entrenched” on his zero per cent position.
Fellow candidate Zubair Sheikh is running on a platform of no tax increases for four years. Competitor Rob Norris pledged a one-per cent tax increase. The race’s latest entry, Mark Zielke, didn’t offer a specific figure Friday but called a zero per cent increase “foolish.”
Earlier this week, incumbent mayor Charlie Clark said any city council that approves a zero-per cent increase must ask itself what it’s willing to cut.
“You have to work with your council and make those decisions when you go to budget and not make empty promises during a campaign,” Clark said.
University of Saskatchewan political scientist Greg Poelzer said project deferrals and program cuts would be inevitable without a property tax increase.
“We’re seeing some heavy hits of course in the private sector, especially small businesses in Saskatchewan,” Poelzer said.
“Whether or not it makes sense to make cuts, there is a big question mark.”