While sitting through hours of presentations and deliberations we saw a majority of Sylvan Lake councillors make their first attempt at balancing all the diverse needs of a growing town as they tried to determine what our taxpayers could live with for a tax increase.
Their decision — an increase of over three per cent was too much. So they tackled the numbers one last time Saturday afternoon, as they came close to the end of their work. And they were able to reduce the tax rate increase to 2.69 per cent.
But wait, that’s not the total increase. Many residents will also be hit with assessment (property value) changes. They’re estimated to average 1.8 per cent so if your property increased in value by the average, your tax bill could be 4.49 per cent higher this year.
Then, if the province decides to tinker with the provincial education tax, which is collected by the town on the same tax bill, and forward to the province, the increase could be higher. That won’t be known until later this spring.
It must be stressed, again and again, that the town has no influence in what the province does. They get a bill from the province, have to collect the money from you, the ratepayer, and then pay the province. Interestingly, the town actually has to send the province two quarterly payments before it even collects taxes from our residents and businesses.
While that may give you a very uneasy feeling about what’s to come this year, we have to remember that Sylvan Lake is growing. We’re planning for more land through annexation, more people, more business and more industry. Those plans come with costs, both in terms of developing them and then in implementation.
Faced, as four of our councillors were, with this, their first budget, we’d give them a passing grade for making the decisions they did. Of course, we could criticize some of those decisions. But when you look at the overall result, their struggles will result in real progress in the coming year.
There were areas they could have cut to maintain the increase at one per cent as suggested by staff. Their visions, however, determined we’re going in certain directions.
One of those items was $100,000 slated for beach enhancement. That needs to be approved by the province before it proceeds because it would take place on provincial land. The amount budgeted is four times what was spent last year to add sand to the side of our lake and enhance the visitor experience.
We could criticize councillors for increasing the snow and ice clearing budget to improve service levels from last year (not this extraordinary year).
But who can do that in a year like this — particularly when town staff are doing such a good job keeping us moving.
Councillors did ascertain that if the increased snow removal budget isn’t entirely spent it would go into a reserve that could be accessed in years like we’re now experiencing.
Another idea which portends future expenditure is $10,000 for spray park location search and design. That’s an idea with lots of traction among the public — so it seems councillors are reacting to discussions they had during the election and are proceeding. There will be a time for the public to provide their ideas on this project.
Another radar trailer for Protective Services at $25,000??? How much did concerns about safety weigh on the minds of councillors on this item and others such as $800,000 for two sets of traffic lights at busy corners? Or $410,000 for a sidewalk to connect the northern part of 50th Street with Beacon Hill, Crestview and Lighthouse Christian Academy? All, we believe, were worthy of the debate which went into the decisions and will enhance our community.
We could continue, but we’d be surprised if more than a handful of people really care.
Town councillors were adamant that residents and business owners be given time to digest their decisions. That’s why they’ve allowed a three-week comment period before they pass the final interim budget. They also plan to make themselves by hosting a coffee party at a local business.
We hope they’re overwhelmed with comments. But we suspect from past experience, the response will be mediocre from an apathetic populace who understand there’s nothing certain in life but death and taxes.