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Saskatoon committee holds special meeting ahead of budget talks

Click to play video: 'Saskatoon committee holds special meeting ahead of budget talks' Saskatoon committee holds special meeting ahead of budget talks
WATCH: Friday’s special meeting was a chance for Saskatoon city councillors to review reports on the city’s finances and to ask preliminary questions – Oct 15, 2021

The biggest challenge facing Saskatoon and its finances, councillors heard at a special committee meeting on Friday, is still COVID-19.

Councillors are scheduled to begin three days of deliberations for the 2022-23 multi-year budget at the end of November.

Friday’s special meeting was a chance for them to review reports on the city’s finances and to ask preliminary questions.

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The administration presented a series of reports that highlighted the city is making less money than before the pandemic because the virus prevented people leaving their house and therefore paying city and provincial government fees.

One document reports non-tax revenues declined.

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“Most strikingly,” it states, “user fees and government transfers have failed to grow in step with the economy as measured by population growth and inflation.

“As a result, the municipal property tax is picking up the fiscal slack so that the City can deliver the necessary programs and services effectively to residents and businesses.”

The city relies on non-tax revenue as well as property tax to pay employees and provide services.

The city’s financial director Kari Smith told councillors the revenue from property taxes accounts for roughly 50 per cent of the city’s income.

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That means the council would have to raise property taxes if they want to maintain the same level of services while providing the same support to all future projects.

Smith explained that approved items may not affect the upcoming property tax rate because the programs may be funded through the city’s reserves.

The reports, and the city administration, have not proposed a property tax rate increase yet.

Other documents provide background on the city’s policies towards charging user fees — should the council decide to raise them — outlined budget items they already approved and looked at how other Western Canadian cities reduced their costs.

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Ward 5 councillor Randy Donauer proposed three motions that the council passed unanimously. The first two requested a report on the implications of shaving some of the proposed increases to city business lines and the reserves by half a percentage point some programs by half a percentage point.

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The other asked for a report on increasing user fees by five per cent.

“It would occur to me that this is a bit of a different year because the impact of COVID on our community is very significant,” he said.

A motion from Mayor Charlie Clark charged the council with exploring how cities like Winnipeg and Calgary cut costs in greater detail and how those councils made decisions around firing fulltime employees.

Chief financial officer Kerry Tarasoff told the councillors the reports should be ready by budget deliberations.

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