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Preliminary city budget proposes big tax hike

Province throws monkey wrench into local budget planning
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A first draft of Sault Ste. Marie's 2019 operating budget, to be presented at Monday's meeting of City Council, calls for a 3.57 per cent increase in municipal taxes.

"This represents the net requirement to provide the same level of service in 2019 as maintained in 2018," says a briefing document prepared for councillors by city staff.

The preliminary budget, which traditionally gets whittled down by City Council, calls for $4 million in increased spending, $1.2 million of which is expected to come from local boards such as Sault Ste. Marie Police Service that are outside council's control.

One major wrinkle in this year's budget planning is a letter sent just before Christmas by Ontario finance minister Vic Fedeli, advising that $15.5 million received by the Sault from Ontario's Municipal Partnership Fund will be reduced by an unspecified amount.

The preliminary budget makes no provision for that reduction.

"If allocations to municipalities are reduced, councils will need to compensate with property tax increases or local service reductions in 2019. Delayed notification of the allocations also make it difficult to make accurate 2019 spending decisions," city staff say in their budget presentation.

Last year's per capital municipal levy was $1,469 in Sault Ste. Marie, compared to $1,546 in Greater Sudbury, $1,599 in North Bay and $1,693 in Thunder Bay.

Sault Ste. Marie's annual levy increases averaged 2.70 per cent from 2015 to 2018, compared to 3.32 per cent from 2011 to 2014, 3.56 per cent from 2007 to 2010, and 5.84 per cent from 2003 to 2006.

The 2019 preliminary budget includes $574,600 more for waste management, a $54,900 savings from the reduced size of City Council, and $412,000 in increased user fees and other revenue.

City officials are holding a budget open house to get community input next Wednesday, Jan. 16 from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Russ Ramsay boardroom at Civic Centre.

Further City Council budget deliberations are planned for Jan. 28 and Feb. 4 and 5.

Final budget approval is expected in March.

The 2019 preliminary budget will be presented to city councillors on Monday by chief administrative officer Al Horsman, chief financial officer and treasurer Shelley Schell and Jacob Bruzas, the city's manager of audits and capital planning.

Monday's City Council meeting will be livestreamed on SooToday starting at 4:30 p.m.


David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans six decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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