Budget 2020 eyes 3.23% property tax hike, plus 4 other highlights
City council can still lower the property tax increase during budget bull sessions next month
Saskatoon homeowners will pay an extra 3.23 per cent on their property taxes next year — unless city councillors further shave down the property tax hike during a budget bull session scheduled for late November.
That's the key takeaway from the city's 2020 budget, which was made public Wednesday afternoon.
For a homeowner with a house worth $371,000, the currently-projected 3.23-per-cent increase means they'll pay $60.95 more on their taxes in 2020 than in 2019.
That's not as big a bump as the one from 2018 to 2019, when people in the same house bracket faced a year-over-year hike of $81.
That's because city councillors worked with the city earlier this year to bring the 2020 property tax hike down from the city's originally-set target of 3.94 per cent.
And it could go down even more than 3.23 per cent once city councillors start going through the budget section by section during a three-day session scheduled to begin on Nov. 25.
Here are four other big takeaways from the 2020 city budget.
More police officers
In the midst of a record year for homicides in the city and concerns about community safety, the Saskatoon Police Service — which technically submits its own budget — is planning to hire three new on-street officers in 2020, and another four in 2021.
Police Chief Troy Cooper has previously told CBC News that additional hires in more specialized jobs in 2020 are meant to allow street cops currently taken up with that work to return to the street.
The increase in officers comes as the union for local officers, the Saskatoon Police Association, has recently ratcheted up its demands for more officers to help alleviate overburdened officers.
Increased user fees
Several user fees are going up.
Different tiers of passes at the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo will go up in the price, with the steepest increase, $5, being for a family season pass (which currently costs $80).
A $20 playpack for the Nutrien Playland will go up in price by $2.50.
"Since 2015, Nutrien Playland operations have experienced increases in operational costs as well as growing demand for enhanced and improved services and amenities," said Clae Hack with the city's finance department. "The proposed admission fee and group rental rates will support the financial objective of 100 per cent cost recovery."
Monthly residential recycling pickup costs will increase by $1.73, due to terms in the city's contract with the service provider.
59 more city staffers
Budget 2020 calls for 59 new full-time positions (or their equivalents) at the city.
Population growth partly accounts for that, Hack said.
"As the city continues to grow, as we add more park spaces, more roadways, we need more staff in order to maintain those and keep the city's current service level at its current standard," Hack said. "Without adding those employees, we'd be stretching current staff thinner, possibly impacting service levels."
Hack added that "this is the lowest FTEs per 100,000 people that we've had since we started keeping track in 2013."
Among the 59 new jobs, SaskTel Centre is adding 4.6 positions that were already approved by city council, including a director of event services and assistant box office supervisor. The positions are meant to keep the aging stadium competitive with other arenas.
At the city proper, the largest increase in staff will happen in the corporate governance and finance divisions, where 8.6 new full-time positions will be added.
Planning for a new library
The 2020 budget plans for a new downtown library, even though the project's future is unclear.
City councillors still have questions about the library service's business case for the project, and it's city council that will ultimately have to approve the library service's borrowing more than $80 million for the project. The full cost is estimated at $154 million.
It's not clear when the public hearing on borrowing will happen.
While the city is asking for money to continue planning a new downtown arena and convention centre, unlike the library, the full cost of an arena is not accounted for in the budget.
"The arena is really in its preliminary stages," Hack said. "As we finish the business case and more decisions are made by council, I think you'll start to see aspects of that appear in future budgets."
One last thing
This is the first Saskatoon budget to forecast property taxes for the next two years. The city is doing this to provide homeowners more certainty about future costs.
But as Clae clarified Wednesday, city councillors will only approve the 2021 budget in principle and give it final approval in late 2020.
Technically, he said, the next city council could make changes to the preliminary 2021 figures approved this year.