City of Lacombe Councillor Reuben Konnik challenged city council and administration to have no tax increases in 2020.
“We are in a tough economic situation as a province. I think it is high-time and it is something our citizens have repeatedly asked for,” Konnik said.
Currently, administration has presented an operating budget which institutes a 1.4 per cent increase, which is in line with council’s commitment to keep tax increases to the consumer price index, which is the inflation rate.
“We having been towing the line on property taxes and they have been keep on going up. It is time we try to take a look at a zero per cent tax increase. It is certainly doable and I would like to see if we can pull it off,” he said.
Councillor Reuben Konnik believes a zero per cent increase is possible and council agreed to task administration to present what a budget would look like with a zero per cent increase, a 0.9 per cent increase and the current 1.4 per cent increase.
Konnik said this could be done through a combination of transferring less to reserves and also looking at cost-of-living increases within council and City Hall.
“Those are my suggestions. I think there are a few other areas that we could perhaps trim. In terms of service levels, they will remain as they are,” Konnik said.
Mayor Grant Creasey said he will continue to push to have tax increases in Lacombe as low as possible.
“I think it was an ambitious and lofty goal to keep it to CPI and we have done so. That was a maximum level and if we are in a position to do better, which I personally feel we can do, that I think we aught to,” he said.
Creasey said there is some risk to transferring less to reserves, but added that needs to be balanced with the interest of the taxpayer and the long-term viability of city services.
“There are areas we can make adjustments and I think we can do that without overly impacting the community,” he said.
Lacombe CAO Matt Goudy said a zero per cent increase is possible, but all decreases will have budget consequences. He added the changed necessary will not affect community group funding further.
“There is consequences of the different scenarios and that is what council has asked us to look at: What would the consequences be of zero per cent 0.9 per cent and 1.4 per cent,” he said. “The challenges are logistic and we have about a week and half to post the council agenda for that meeting. It is just a matter of getting the work done which I am confident we can do.”
Currently the city is short-staffed without an executive level accountant, which creates a challenge. Goudy said the work will still get done and that position will be filled by the end of the month.
The work will include looking at cost-of-living allowances and well as adjusting the long-term capital budget to reflect a zero per cent increase.
“If there is savings we can get there by slowing down some of the projects or minimizing our spending outlook over the next 10 years,” he said
Konnik’s push to adjust the budget was in part to account for provincial uncertainty. Creasey said this uncertainty will likely continue.
“I think it would be foolish to expect we have seen the last of the cuts and I think we need to prepare ourselves for additional trimming at least in the short term,” he said
A new operating budget will be presented at the Nov. 25 regular council meeting.