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Hello Ward 7,

As 2024 gets underway, I wanted to give you an overview of the decisions made at Council’s budget deliberations, from the summer all the way through early December. Read on to learn more about the City’s plans for this year and beyond.

Where did we start?

City Council’s budget work began back in June, when Council and the public learned about the substantial funding gap the City was facing. This funding gap was not a deficit – in other words, it was not a problem of the City having overspent its previous budget(s), and in fact, our projections show a very small surplus for the 2023 fiscal year. Instead, the funding gap was a reflection of the difference between previous funding levels, and the change in what it would cost to maintain our planned programs, projects, and services in 2024. 

This gap between projected expenses and projected revenues was created by a number of factors: inflationary pressures, revenues that have been slow to recover post-COVID, risk built into our budget from previous Council decisions, and service pressures related to the City’s growth. Without action to reduce the gap, these figures would have represented a 18.56% property tax impact for 2024, and 6.95% for 2025.

Back in June, this funding gap for the 2024/2025 budget year was identified to be $52.4 Million in 2024, and $23.2 Million in 2025. Through special Governance and Priorities Committee meetings, Council made adjustments to the budget, totaling a net $31,618,100 in reductions. By the end of budget deliberations at the beginning of December, those adjustments totaled a net $34.77 Million reduced from the budget.

What changes did Council make?

Throughout the process, Council made 99 different adjustments to the budget. and I’ll start by reviewing some of the Council decisions that reduced the budget. Some budget reduction decisions were cuts to services – for example:

  • closure of the East Compost depot (saving $132,000)
  • reduction of mosquito control programs outside City limits (saving $30,000).
  • elimination of the skunk trapping service for private residences (saving $25,000)

Council also decided to defer future plans and projects in order to reduce planned budget expenditures, which reduces the financial impact for the next two budget years, but means that some of these projects will be reintroduced with a shorter ‘runway’ in the future. For example:

  • eliminating Transit Bus Growth Phase-in ($1.8 Million)
  • eliminating the phase-in for operations of a future east side leisure centre ($600,000)
  • eliminating the phase-in for Saskatoon Fire station ($1.255 Million)

Another category of budget reductions were the deferral of staff, which of course has an impact on the City’s operations and service delivery capacity. Some examples are:

  • deferring street sweeping positions in 2024 ($13,800)
  • deferring snow and ice positions in 2024 ($115,300)
  • deferring trades positions ($99,400)

Finally, Council closed the funding gap by adjusting some fees (like cemetery fees, pet licensing fees, penalties on late taxes, and parking rates) to increase revenues.

Council also introduced some new investments through this budget, examples of which are provided below. In my approach to these decisions, I tried to align these new investments with things I hear about from residents, such as the need to improve safety around the schools in Stonebridge, and the need to provide greater investment in affordable housing creation in Saskatoon:

  • School zone snow removal enhancement ($34,000 in 2024)
  • Housing operating program ($240,000 in 2024, $125,00 in 2025)
  • Transit support workers ($278,000 in 2024, $204,000 in 2025)
  • Road safety audit program ($100,000 in 2024)

During our deliberations, I put forward a motion proposing to shift Saskatoon’s business tax ratio from 1.59 to 1.75. The current tax ratio means that for every $1 that a residential property pays in taxes, a non-residential property pays $1.59, and my motion proposed to move that ratio from $1: $1.75. Right now Saskatoon residents pay proportionately more than other cities through residential property taxes, while commercial taxes pay proportionately less. There are a couple Western Canadian cities coming in at a lower rate (Winnipeg at 1.44 and Regina at 1.46), but cities like Kelowna (2.45), Edmonton (2.98), and Calgary (4.09), all have ratios that mean residential taxpayers pay considerably less than commercial taxpayers as compared to Saskatoon. To the east, cities like Toronto (2.51) and Ottawa (1.92) are also putting less of the tax burden on residential property taxpayers.

My intent is not to move Saskatoon to the extreme end of this scale but to make a small adjustment that would bring us closer to the average, given the affordability pressures Saskatoon residents are facing. This motion did not pass, but if it had, residential property taxes for 2024 would have been a 4.04% increase instead of a 6.04% increase.

I was able to successfully move a motion asking our administration to report further on a small business sub-class for commercial property taxes. This would allow us to explore a more nuanced approach to commercial taxation, which presently has a blanket approach for large commercial properties (like big box stores) and small, local businesses. We also approved a motion for the administration to report further on business tax ratios across different jurisdictions, as well as to report on the economic impacts of business tax ratios.

None of the decisions during our budget debates were taken lightly, and throughout the process my priority was to consider the impacts of the savings from cuts and deferrals against the impacts the associated service has on the community. Of course throughout this process, each Councillor introduced options and we all won and lost some votes. The final result represents the sum total of these efforts, and the chart below illustrates how a tax dollar will be distributed in 2024 and 2025:

Thanks for reading, and for sharing your feedback with me throughout the process. I hope this helps to illustrate the process we undertook, and what residents can expect in 2024 and beyond. I’m happy to chat further or hear your questions and comments on any of the above. 

All the best for a wonderful 2024! 

Mairin Loewen