Difficult task ahead as councillors weigh pros and cons of tax increases; needs

Sylvan Lake councillors got their first taste of the difficult task ahead of them, Tuesday night, as they work through this year’s budget.

Sylvan Lake councillors got their first taste of the difficult task ahead of them, Tuesday night, as they work through this year’s budget.

The good news is that just by virtue of growth in the town and growth in assessment, there’s already an extra $500,000 to spend if the town’s tax rates are left the same as last year.

However staff proposed an additional increase of one per cent which would net the town another $125,000.

Yet, as always, there’s never enough money to go around.

Besides the budget prepared by staff, based on those two additional amounts, there’s a lengthy list of ‘edge’ items — those items which were proposed by staff but pulled from the budget because of the lack of funds. The top priority items in this list account for about $300,000 which, if added without detailed scrutiny and deletion of some items already in the budget, would equate to a further increase of 2.4 per cent.

Then there are the priority two and three ‘edge’ items, some of which appear to be very necessary in conjunction with council’s vision for the future.

Debate Friday night and Saturday is going to be the pivotal point in determining this year’s budget and how it reflects the wishes of the group sitting around the decision-making table — four of the seven are new to the process. Why not attend and listen to the discussion? The meetings are open to the public.

Certainly scrutiny of what’s in the proposed budget, and changes to it are necessary to bring some of the items left out back into play.

The other issue which is going to affect council’s decision making is the split between residential and non-residential (commercial) tax rates. Last year the non-residential rate was over 85 per cent higher than the residential rate.

We believe that’s a hindrance to attracting new business and industry to our community. It’s an issue Councillor Dale Plante raised during Tuesday night’s discussion — one that won’t be forgotten during debate.

If changed or capped, it means residential ratepayers will have to pay a more equitable share of the town’s taxes, something that’s sure to provoke consternation in some sectors because those people are voters.

We believe if the difference isn’t addressed it will continue to surface. So we urge councillors to seriously consider changes in this item while they have the opportunity to moderate the impact on residents as growth continues to contribute to the budget.