Saskatoon’s city council voted to lower property taxes next year after chopping several million dollars in expenditures during budget deliberations on Thursday.
Mayor Charlie Clark and the city council dropped the property tax increase from 3.87 per cent to 2.83 per cent by cutting $2.5 million across the entire budget and rolling back a few other expenditures.
One was an additional $500,000 for the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS). The council members reduced the extra funding by $200,000.
On Wednesday, Chief Troy Cooper and two members of the Board of Police Commissioners told the council the SPS needed more funds to accommodate hiring five new staff, per a new collective bargaining agreement with the officers’ union.
Cooper said he was disappointed by the decision.
“We will go back and find ways to cut that amount, but we haven’t determined where we’re going to make those cuts,” he said on Friday, speaking to reporters over Zoom.
While he didn’t know where the cuts could be made, he said police performance would not be affected.
“Regardless of where those savings are found, or where we make cuts to programing or whatever, we’re not going to do anything that reduces resources that are required in the community.”
The council members also removed a total of $71,000 from their own travel budget and car allowances.
They also increased funding to some areas — like affordable housing.
Ward 2 representative Hilary Gough proposed $100,000 for an innovate housing program, which advocate and former city planner Alan Wallace said is sorely needed.
“It was good news to hear that council had added that extra funding, because I think what has happened is we’re not we’re not paying enough attention to affordable housing again,” he said.
“And affordable housing issues never go away.”
Wallace, a member of the National Affordable Housing Corporation, said vacancy rates have plummeted in recent years, a sign of a deteriorating situation.
“Land has remained fairly expensive in Saskatoon from the boom years. It never really dropped that much, so it’s difficult to purchase,” he said, speaking over Zoom.
He said it’s easy to find housing in poor condition and in poor locations, but “that’s not really what we’re trying to solve,” explaining most families require a three- or four-bedroom home to be adequately lodged.
He said the money could help more families find safe shelter and would likely elicit additional funding from the federal and provincial governments.
Council also voted to spend $228,000 to make parking free on Saturdays from January until the end of April, partially fulling a campaign promise of Clark’s to have free parking throughout the year.
Jared Olsen, owner of Revolve Café in the River Landing neighbourhood, welcomed the move.
“It could make wonders. There’s a lot of people who won’t even come to the area because they have to pay for parking or park a certain length away, so they only go to one business,” he said, speaking outside his business.
“It can be a pain and parking people are pretty ruthless, so you’ll get a ticket if you don’t pay.”
He said COVID-19 restrictions had severed several income streams, like catering. He hoped an extra day of free parking would entice more customers.
“Saskatchewan’s a little… scary to be out and about right now. So if things really cool down in the new year I think it will be the added bonus to help people get out.”
The council also allocated $65,000 for additional berm mowing to ensure adequate service delivery.