Saskatoon’s city council has voted to reduce the 2021 property tax increase.
After two days of deliberations, the council voted to reduce the 2021 property tax rate increase from 3.87 per cent to 2.83 per cent — which will save the average Saskatoon home, valued at $371,000, just less than $20 per year.
2021 is the second year in a two-year budget, which means most items and the tax increase were already determined and just required the council’s official approval.
But Coun. Troy Davies began Thursday’s meeting by proposing to cut $2 million from the operating budget, thereby reducing the increase by one per cent.
“I will tell you, $19, $20 here, $5 there… is a huge deal for many residents in my ward,” he said.
Other councillors echoed Davies’ sentiment, saying they needed to cut expenditures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Charlie Clark told council he supported the motion because “… (w)e have to be adaptive, we have to make calculated decisions… and provide that balance of relief to our residents.”
He also promised to keep lobbying and working to get more support from the provincial and federal governments.
Sarina Gersher voted against the cut.
“The value that we can provide to residents through quality of life with that property tax impact is actually greater than the $19.59 on an average that people will see back through property tax,” she said.
The council also voted to reduce funding in others areas, with Coun. Gough proposing to cut $200,000 from the extra $500,000 the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) ask for on Wednesday.
Chief Troy Cooper said he’d have to figure out how that would affect the SPS because most of that new money is supposed to go to new staff — and is required by a collective bargaining agreement with the police union.
Cooper said any cuts likely would not affect the creation of two new mental health crisis teams.
The Police Board of Commissioners will have to vote on the changes. Their next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 17.
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Clark and the councillors also voted to reduce their own travel budgets respectively by $44,000 and $15,000 and their car allowance respectively by $8,000 and $4,000.
Council still chose to increase some expenditures.
Gough also moved to add $100,000 to the Affordable Housing Reserve.
Ward 6 Coun. Cynthia Block proposed the city allocate funding to allow free parking on Saturdays from January until the end of May — one of Clark’s campaign promises.
Council initially rejected the measure and then brought back for the reduced sum of $228,000 and a shortened schedule, from January until the end of April.
The previous council, which had all the same members save for new Ward 3 representative David Kirton, decided upon the 3.87 per cent increase during the 2020-21 deliberations in November of last year.
But that was before the pandemic robbed the city of a lot of income and before the recent blizzard cost the city millions of dollars in clean-up efforts.