No change in residential, commercial tax rates in St. John's city budget

A slight increase in spending for the new St. John's city council's first budget, with residential and commercial tax rates the same as 2017.

Three newly elected councillors voting against the budget

The City of St. John's has released its 2018 budget, with a slight spending increase and no change to residential and commercial tax rates. (CBC)

The new St. John's city council's first budget keeps the residential and commercial tax rates the same as 2017, with a tiny increase in overall spending.

The residential mill rate of 7.3 and commercial rate of 24.7 are unchanged from the 2017 budget.

City spending in 2018 is budgeted at $294.6 million, up $189,779 from the 2017 budget — an increase of 0.06 per cent.

More than a third of the budget — $114.7 million, or 38.9 per cent — is being spent on salaries and benefits.

This budget is the final one in a three-year plan that was announced in December 2015. A new three-year plan will begin with the 2019 budget.

Three votes against

Earlier this month, two newly elected councillors — Ian Froude and Maggie Burton — criticized this year's budget process, saying it lacked transparency and public consultation.

They echoed those remarks Monday, and voted against the budget, with Froude saying he and the public had no input. Burton also said there wasn't enough public engagement, and they both criticized the fact that the budget doesn't reduce Metrobus fares.

They were joined by Coun. Hope Jamieson, who called the budget "quite fiscally prudent" but said she was disappointed by a lack of public engagement.

Our poorest residents can't wait for change.- Hope Jamieson

"I heard loud and clear on the campaign trail that the residents of St. John's feel that their voices need to be heard better when it comes to how their tax dollars are spent, and I don't think that took place in preparation for this budget," she said.

Jamieson added that accessible transit is one of the most fundamental things the city could do to help low-income families.

"Our poorest residents can't wait for change," she said. "We have people in our city who are struggling right now, and a year is a long time to be living on the margins in that way."

Other councillors, like Sandy Hickman and Wally Collins, as well as Mayor Danny Breen, said there was enough consultation, with Hickman praising Coun. Dave Lane for pushing for increased engagement since being elected in 2013.

Less tax revenue expected for 2019

Breen said it was difficult to do as much consultation as everyone would have liked in an election year.

"Really, it would have been very difficult for us to do a lot of public engagement time-wise, but also more difficult in that we really needed to hold the line this year, in order to be prepared to move into 2019."

The city is expected to take in millions less in property taxes in 2019, due to updated 2017 property assessments. If assessed housing values drop significantly, the city would have to raise tax rates to bring in the same amount of revenue.