Most municipal leaders in Saskatchewan are breathing sighs of relief after the provincial government's 2018 budget came down on Tuesday.
It includes a $365 million deficit, but increases in spending on healthcare and education, as well as adding PST to the sale of energy efficient appliances and used vehicles over $5,000.
"From the initial items that I've read from a municipal aspect, it hasn't impacted us a bunch. There was no increases to the education taxes, so that only eases the tax bills to the citizens. Also, it doesn't look like there was any change to the municipal operating grant for this year. It did dictate that there was a two year formula confidence for the next two years, but then after that, they're looking to review it just because of the increase in PST and our municipal operating grant is the one percent of the PST," said City Manager Jeff Ward, adding that they'll be working with SUMA, SARM and representatives of the government to hash everything out.
Last year's budget shocked civic leaders across the province as it was released with major cuts in the area of grants-in-lieu, resulting in an approximate $1,000,000 loss for the Energy City.
"There is mention that the crown properties could be taxed. I did talk to the MLA, Lori Carr, to get some clarification on some of that. Hopefully we can figure out how these properties are assessed and we can get some tax dollars. The big fight that a lot of people are having is that these properties, although they're owned by the crown corporation, they're still using the services of the city, they're still getting snow removal in front of their street, police service, fire response, items like that. They should be paying some property tax. When that grant-in-lieu was removed last year, it became a concern for all cities that were providing services to these properties," Ward stated.
It also appears that the SaskEnergy surcharge will be reinstated, resulting in an additional $30,000 returning Estevan's way.
"Obviously, you never want to see a budget that's in the deficit. However, you do realize that, if you're not operating these budgets, you're getting severe budget cuts and that could impact municipalities as well as health and education pretty significantly."
Residents can rest assured that not a lot will directly affect the average taxpayer, as the ramifications of the provincial budget on the City this year are, in and of themselves, limited.
"Last year's was probably the most impactful budget that we've ever seen in recent memory. Huge cuts, a $1,000,000 loss on the city in regards to grants-in-lieu, huge cuts to areas like STC and other things like that. I think this is a pretty minimal change budget, this is what people need to see after the huge impacts of last year, and hopefully they can stay on track and get to surplus in 2019," shared Ward.
He also noted that, similar to the previous year, consultation between the province and rural and urban municipalities was sparse, although less so than in 2017.