Moncton proposes balanced 2020 budget with no tax increase
Councillors considering details in day-long meeting Wednesday
The City of Moncton has proposed a balanced 2020 budget with no tax increases but with a slight increase for water and sewer rates.
City councillors spent Wednesday going through the details of the proposed $161.8 million operations budget and $60.3 million capital budget. Council is expected to resume Friday morning to consider a proposal to add a bus route servicing Moncton High School.
Under the proposed budget, the tax rate would remain at $1.6497 per $100 of assessed property value. The 538-page budget says the average customer would pay $1,066 for water and sewer service in a year, up from $1,058 in 2019.
The budget also includes fee increases for building permits and admission to the Magnetic Hill Zoo.
"We haven't had to go into service areas and make cuts as we have in previous years," Jacques Doucet, Moncton's chief financial officer, said as city staff outlined the basics of the budget.
One of the biggest cost increases in the budget is for the Codiac Regional RCMP. Moncton will spend $1.6 million more in 2020. The force has budgeted to add more officers next year with up to 14 more by 2022.
Several councillors expressed concern with the amount of emergency services overtime spending in 2019 and budgeted for 2020.
The 2020 budget shows the city expects 2019 will end with $1.8 million spent on overtime, above the $862,428 budgeted. Staff told council that's mostly tied to vacant positions at the fire department.
In the RCMP budget, $850,000 was budgeted for overtime in 2019. But it rises to $1.3 million in 2020 to reflect the average amount of overtime actually paid out over the last three years. That's in part why the force plans to add more officers next year.
The city's operating budget includes wages and benefits for 669 staff in 2020, insurance, taxes and other costs. The capital budget pays for things like roads, water and sewer lines and repairing city buildings.
The city proposes pushing back some capital spending and counts on provincial contributions for a number of projects. For example, a culvert on Michael's Creek estimated to cost $5 million would depend on $3 million from the province.
"Those items concern me," Coun. Brian Hicks said, adding that New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has talked about reducing provincial spending.
"If they're not receptive, that really changes things," Hicks said. "We really need to find a way to put pressure on the provincial government, or we need to change our capital budget drastically."
Zoo plans 'substantially' more expensive
The city's plans to expand the Magnetic Hill Zoo are estimated to be "substantially" more expensive than anticipated. The zoo planned to build an African village and safari area. A table in the budget shows the three contemplated phases, which would be built over five years, could cost $17 million.
Gregg Houser, the city's deputy treasurer, told council that they will need to secure funding from other levels of government to move ahead with the plans. Staff told council further details will be presented at a meeting in early 2020.
The budget includes funding for new emergency generators at two fire halls, which would ensure all stations have backup power, and the Codiac Transpo depot. During a power outage this year, bus service was halted because a fuel station at the depot didn't have power.
Coun. Shawn Crossman moved a motion to amend the budget to add a bus route that would service Moncton High School, which the province built along city limits and has about 1,200 students.
Students have called for such a route so they can use transit when taking part in after-school activities.
The motion will be considered Friday.
Rebuilding Lutz Street
Next year, one major roadwork project will involve rebuilding Lutz Street between Record and Main streets. The $7.8 million project will include water and sewer work, rebuilding sidewalks and moving power and communications lines underground.
The work is related to the city's downtown improvement plan. Another part of that plan calls for a new east-west street between Robinson and Downing streets, but that was also among projects shelved until there's further downtown development and demand.
The city's long-term capital plan moves spending $46 million for a new Codiac RCMP headquarters back to 2022.
The availability of housing for people with lower incomes has become a major issue in the city. The city unveiled an affordable housing plan earlier this year, but there's been little discussion at council.
Catherine Dallaire, the city's general manager of recreation, culture and events, told council "we really hope [it] will take off this year, 2020."