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Editorial: City manages to hold the line on property taxes despite ongoing infrastructure projects

Given that we’re all paying more for everyday staples like gasoline and groceries, it was probably wise for the members of council to opt for a budget that didn’t increase municipal property taxes.
thompson 2022 budget revenues pie chart
A YouTube screenshot of a PowerPoint slide from the financial plan public presentation June 9 shows a percentage breakdown of where revenues are coming from for the City of Thompson’s nearly $56 million budget for 2022.

Whether it was done for economic or political reasons, a topic on which answers may vary, depending on which members of council you talk to, the fact that the City of Thompson delivered what was basically a stand-pat budget in terms of property taxes is probably welcome news to residential taxpayers.

Commercial property owners are probably even happier, given that their tax bills will actually drop slightly from what they were last year.

When it comes to their pocketbooks and wallets, few people are ever going to sneer at having paying a little less they did for the same thing last year, or even paying a little bit more, but less than they were prepared to. Given that we’re all paying more for everyday staples like gasoline and groceries, it was probably wise for the members of council to opt for a budget that didn’t increase municipal property taxes.

Are there decisions made and included in the budget that might not be the best financial practices, like using money from reserves built up out of previous year’s surpluses to top up revenues in order to avoid a small tax increase? Sure. But the overall amount that will remain in reserve after transfers are made will still be above the minimum level as dictated by the provincial government. And there’s no point in having large reserves if you’re never going to spend any of it. Like your savings account, it can be used to cushion the effect of not enough income, or in the city’s case, revenues, or an increase in expenses. If you do it repeatedly, it can become a problem, but once in a while is not the end of the world.

Did the upcoming municipal election, now just over four months away, play a role in council members’ decisions? Probably. Whether that’s a good thing or bad thing is debatable. We want politicians to be responsive to what the public wants, but we don’t want them doing things just because they are popular. If they are in a city’s, or a province’s or a country’s best interests, as their leaders perceive them to be, then they should use that information to guide their decisions, regardless of whether people like them or not. At the same time, unless you feel like you can accomplish everything you want in just one term, or will never accomplish anything at all no matter how long you try, neither of which are good attitudes for elected officials to have, you have to sometimes do things that you otherwise might not in order to stay alive and fight another day. Besides which, voters aren’t just a bunch of gullible hayseeds. They know that it’s their own money that funds governments and that they shouldn’t let themselves be bought off by being allowed to keep more of that money. Anyone who pays a little bit of attention to politics of any kind should probably know that the people you elect are probably going to do the most unpopular things, like, say, shutting down a pool, right after their term begins so that they can perhaps have a plan in place to provide a new one by the time the next election rolls around. The public also has responsibilities in the electoral process. Being in favour of a tax cut simply for its own sake is not the most sophisticated approach, though there are certainly valid arguments to be made for lower taxes, depending upon your outlook.

Just to be clear, Thompson residents are still going to be paying higher property tax bills in many cases some September. A person with a house assessed at about the average assessment value of a Thompson home, which is approximately $175,000, will pay $7 more in property taxes because of the School District of Mystery Lake mill rate rising slightly. More significant will be the increase in the special levy for water and sewer line breaks on residential properties, which went up to $83.75 this year from about $63 in 2021. $20 is not a big increase by any means, but it’s still $20 that residential property owners won’t have to spend somewhere else, like on water bills, which also go up in about two weeks.

There is no such thing as a perfect budget, and it is very likely that at least some pf the projections upon which the city’s 2022 budget is based on, like those regarding the expected amount the city will have to pay for its share of a new pool, will turn out to be too low. You have to make assumptions to make a budget, and not all of them are going to be right. It may have been difficult a year ago to imagine that we’d be paying over $2 a litre for gas right now, but here we are.

Council and city administrators are not blind to the fact that life is getting more expensive. They see it in their jobs and in their day-to-day lives. Regardless of their motivations, at least they didn’t add to the problem of rising costs at a time when it’s getting more and more difficult to afford them.