Saskatoon city officials say provincial budget cuts and inflation increases mean there isn't much room for new spending in next year's municipal budget.
But the draft of the 2018 budget paints an ambitious plan to remake the city over the next few years.
"This budget is not a very sexy budget," said Kerry Tarasoff, the chief financial officer.
"It's really trying to deal with some of our revenue pressures and there is really not lots left for us to try to make some major changes and programs."
Still, the budget is forward-looking.
It not only calls for combined operations and capital spending of $1.1 billion in 2018 but casts an eye to future big-ticket projects: everything from the proposed bus-rapid-transit system to a new $40-million suburban recreation complex.
It even contemplates an eighth bridge.
The budget, released on Monday, also raises a red flag on a more immediate venture: Remai Modern art gallery, slated to open with much bombast this Saturday.
May have 'underestimated' gallery costs: city
The $84.6-million facility will be home to 406 Picasso linocuts and stand as the potential site of future Juno Awards, the city hopes.
But it will also be a challenge to finance the gallery's $5.4-million annual operating costs, according to the city budget.
"The operating budget requires 45 per cent of revenues be self-generated, including significant sponsorship and fundraising targets, which will continue to be a challenge," the city writes.
"There is a risk that, in opening an institution of this scale, there may be costs that have not been identified or that have been underestimated."
Tarasoff said this year will be a test for the gallery to see if can operate on its already-approved budget going forward.
The gallery construction was over-budget by $2.5 million to $4.5 million as of June, with no word on how or if the city and the major contractor, EllisDon, would split the additional costs.
Future big-ticket items
In addition to the art gallery, the city wants to build a new $40-million suburban recreational complex over three years, with the facility opening in 2023.
An exact location is not specified, though the city notes that "this facility may be located adjacent to a future high school construction project."
A leisure pool, walking track, fitness area, gym and multi-use space are all expected to be part of the design — and require annual operations and maintenance totalling an estimated $1.7 million.
And for the first time, the city is laying out a specific timeline for construction of the proposed bus-rapid-transit-system.
Starting in 2019, the city hopes to begin building the BRT system at an average of $44 million a year up to 2022 (the last year forcasted in the city's budget). The city has already hired a company to design the system.
The same growth plan that imagines half a million Saskatoon residents even calls for a potential eighth bridge in the city, though a location is not specified.
In 2018, the city is expected to add 6,000 people, or 20 new residents a day, to its population.
Preventing 'structural failure' at overpass
Of the $1.1-billion city budget for next year, $295.4 million will go to capital projects, an increase of $33.5 million from 2017.
The largest chunk of 2018 capital spending will go to transportation projects, with $61.9 million slated for road maintenance, snow and ice removal, and street sweeping.
The northbound Circle Drive overpass over 33rd Street needs $1.9 million in rehabilitation work next year in order to avoid eventual "structural failure" that would otherwise cost the city about $10 million to repair.
Notable non-transportation budget items for 2018 include:
- $40.6 million for water treatment plant upgrades.
- $27.9 million for upgrades and maintenance work at the wastewater treatment plant.
- $19.8 million in Saskatoon Light and Power upgrades.
- $350,000 for a winter city strategy development plan.
- A $50,000 "master plan" based on "new industry standards" for the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo. It will replace a similar plan completed more than a decade ago.
- A $250,000 contribution to the Friends of the Bowl Foundation.
The latter contribution will help the foundation tear down the existing bleachers at the Saskatoon Minor Football Field and replace them with seats acquired from Regina's old Mosaic Stadium. The project will double the minor football field's seating capacity to 4,800.
Higher property tax, facility fees
The ambitious, multi-year budget comes not only as the city is receiving less money from the provincial government but is also facing slumping revenues from its own citizens.
The city is proposing a 4.96-per-cent property tax hike.
Its non-property-tax revenues (things like facility use fees) now account for 52 per cent of the city's operating budget, down from 58 per cent five years ago.
Admission fee hikes are proposed for the zoo, indoor rinks and other municipally-run facilities next year.
Mayor Charlie Clark has been an ardent defender of the city's developing cycling network, including the protected bike lanes in the downtown core along Fourth Avenue and 23rd Street.
But under the city's Active Transportation Plan, zero dollars are slated for the "cycling network" in 2018, though the city does plan to report further on the 2018 plan in a future report.
While the city has set aside $6 million to purchase land for a replacement of the Frances Morrison Central Library, no money is being set aside for the project's development in 2018 despite an expected announcement Monday about plans for public consultation on the project.
Monday's budget is hardly the final word. City councillors will hammer out the specifics — including the proposed tax hike — over the coming weeks.
The final budget is expected to be passed on Nov. 29.