Editorial: New council’s first budget will likely largely the same as previous council’s last one

Thompson taxpayers will finally get an overall picture of how much they’ll be paying in property taxes and some idea of how much they might receive in the form of services April 25 when the City of Thompson unveils its proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year.

Financial plan documents show that while the city is planning for a five per cent drop in revenue this year from last year, from just under $32 million in 2018 to a little more than $30 million in 2019, it is actually planning to increase its spending by about six per cent from what it actually spent last year, which was about $28.5 million, nearly $3.5 million less than its budgeted expenditure of approximately $31.5 million.

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The main spending areas in which the city appears to be seeking to reduce costs are general government services, transportation services and economic development services, the last of which is proposed to drop from nearly $500,000 in the 2018 budget year to a little less than half that amount this year. At the same time, the budget for protective services is expected to rise from the actual amount spent last year, and fiscal services is budget to rise from about $4 million in 2018 to $6.4 million this year. In order to maintain a balanced budget, the city is expecting to transfer about $2.5 million from reserves, which is about $500,000 less than it transferred from reserves last year.

The fact that some taxpaying residents complain about not getting the level of services they are paying for begins to make a little more sense in light of these numbers. The city underspent its budget by nearly 11 per cent last year. While this can be seen as prudent planning for the future given the fact that the city knew it would be getting less this year and in the following two years from Vale than it did in 2018, it also means, quite literally, that people are getting less than what they pay for.

Does this mean that taxpayers can expect a reduction in their property taxes for the 2019 fiscal year? Probably not, given that the amount the city expects to collect from levying taxes is expected to rise slightly from the amount it collected last year, though only by about 1.1 per cent. That indicates that either property taxes will stay the same, or that they will go up marginally. Remember, however, that upon completion of the new sewage treatment plant that is a little bit behind schedule and not yet in service, the city will have to begin paying back its $12-million plus share of the overall construction costs, which will result in frontage fees and a water utility rate rider of 58 cents per cubic metre for properties in the city for the next 25 years or until the debenture is repaid.  Under this plan, the average residential property will be charged an estimated $110.71 a year as a result of the water rate rider and $43.90 for frontage, the city said in November 2016.

That the city’s budget does not appear as if it will change much from what has been in place over the past couple of years is not a big surprise. This is the first budget developed by a new council, many of whom are taking part in this financial planning process for the first time. Most of them didn’t get elected by promising drastic cuts to either taxes or services. Perhaps as their mandate proceeds and they become more familiar with budgeting, attempts will be made to either reduce taxes to correspond more closely to what is actually spent or to increase them to a level that would allow greater services to be provided. Of these, the former is probably more likely, because people generally dislike paying more in taxes and politicians, even those with no further ambitions beyond city council, know that the only way to get things that they want to do done is to ensure that they remain in position to do them by getting elected for another term. Of course, sometimes, they either accomplish all that they want in one term or get frustrated by their inability to do so while also being the subject of criticism from citizens and decide not to seek that second term.

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