Saskatoon

Saskatoon may have no legal grounds to challenge budget cuts, says prof

Saskatoon may have no legal grounds to challenge funding cuts, according to a political science professor.

Saskatchewan's largest city threatening court injunction after provincial budget

Premier Brad Wall wrote on Facebook that the City of Saskatoon should focus more on using its reserves than on legal action. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

Premier Brad Wall thinks the City of Saskatoon should maybe look inward to deal with provincial budget blows as opposed to lashing out against his government.

On Sunday, Saskatoon city council held an emergency meeting after last Wednesday's budget drop revealed a multimillion-dollar shortfall for the municipality.

Council proposed examining legal action against the province, including an injunction against legislation that would permanently end grants-in-lieu.

The province will no longer be paying grants to make up for money the city could have been getting if it ran its own utilities.

Legal challenge may not be possible

Tom McIntosh, pictured in 2013, says the city of Saskatoon may have no legal grounds to challenge the funding cuts after last week's provincial budget. (CBC)

Tom McIntosh, a professor and head of the University of Regina's politics and international studies department, doesn't think there is much — if anything — Saskatoon can do to change the province's decision to cut those funds.

"If this were a tax dispute between the province and the [federal government] ... I suspect then if the feds reneged on it, the province could turn around and say 'well then, you're going to have to pay tax [on federal buildings in the province]," McIntosh said.

"The city can't do that to the province because the city is a creature of the province." 

McIntosh said the city has no independent, constitutional authority to tax the province. He said the province would have to agree to the tax if anything like that were to happen. 

"On the face of it, it doesn't strike me that they have a big leg to stand on, except the moral authority of the tradition," McIntosh said. 

He said a legal injunction would be surprising and said if it went to court, it would give the province an out as they wouldn't discuss ongoing litigation.

Use reserves, spend more responsibly, says Wall

In a Facebook post on Monday, Wall wrote, "We think it is fair they use some of their reserves or perhaps reconsider spending decisions, rather than a court injunction or an increase in local taxes."

He noted the City of Saskatoon voted to add 50 additional employees to its payroll, and put $5 million into its reserve fund.

He also pointed out that Saskatoon will receive $46 million in revenue sharing from the provincial government.

Opposition leader Trent Wotherspoon tore into the provincial government, calling the idea of municipalities dipping into their reserves "nonsense." 

"[The province] shouldn't penalize those hard-working municipalities and organizations that are able to manage themselves in a fiscally responsible fashion," he said, slamming the provincial government for not having a reserve fund of its own.

Wotherspoon doubled down on the criticism that the budget was "deceitful" — a statement which prompted House Speaker Corey Tocher to kick him out of legislative assembly on Thursday. 

At the meeting Sunday, Mayor Charlie Clark argued against using the city's reserves, calling it a huge problem and a future liability for Saskatoon.

Administration said the city could also raise property taxes by another four per cent as a means to address the shortfall.

Saskatoon's budget for the fiscal year was approved late last year, and included a property tax increase of 3.89 per cent.

The provincial budget cancelled $36 million in grants from SaskPower and SaskEnergy, which were paid to municipalities in lieu of property taxes for infrastructure. The provincial budget also cut funding for libraries in Saskatoon and Regina, and reduced funding to the Meewasin Valley Authority.

The loss of the grants will leave the city $8.3 million short in its 2017 budget and $11.4 million short each year that follows.

The City of Regina plans to hold an emergency meeting on Monday night to decide how it will proceed post-provincial budget.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said the grants will no longer be paid to municipalities in lieu of property taxes for infrastructure. In fact, the province will no longer be paying grants to make up for money the city could have been getting if it ran its own utilities.
    Mar 28, 2017 12:15 PM CT

With files from Rosalie Woloski

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