Saskatoon budget talks began Tuesday and will run until Thursday with a preliminary budget update that changed the starting line slightly.
At the end of budget deliberations in the summer, the city said the current property tax increase sat at 7.14 per cent for 2024 and 5.7 per cent in 2025, but those projections now sit at 7.22 per cent in 2024 and 5.58 per cent in 2025 due to a range of changes and updates:
- A decrease in assessment growth revenue in 2024 from an estimated $3.70-million increase to a $2.68-million increase, resulting in a revenue decrease of $1.01 million. This was offset by a decrease in expenditures in the corporate governance and finance business line.
- An increase in municipal revenue sharing (MRS) in 2025 from an estimated $65.55 million to $65.97 million resulting in a revenue increase of $416,500. MRS in 2024 remains the same as in the budget document at $62.55 million.
- At the Nov. 16 Board of Police Commissioner’s meeting, an additional $200,000 was added to the Saskatoon Police 2024 budget.
- An additional $1.0 million in transit revenue is expected in 2024, which is proposed by Administration to be offset by a $1.0-million increase to the contribution to the transit replacement reserve to fund future bus purchases.
- An increase for revenues of $40,000 in 2024 for the temporary lease for the Saskatchewan Health Authority Park N’ Ride.
Stephanie Clovechok with Discover Saskatoon spoke at the meeting, advocating for a three-per cent inflationary increase for the existing fee-for-service agreement.
Clovechok said Discover Saskatoon was important, saying through events they are creating they are making a city people want to visit, and if Saskatoon is a city people want to visit, it’s a city where people want to live.
Angela Bedard-Haughn, board chair for the Meewasin Valley board of directors, spoke at the meeting to address a freeze in funding for the Meewasin Valley Authority in 2024 and 2025.
She said the Meewasin Valley Authority was a small organization that did a lot with a little.
Bedard-Haughn wanted the city to recommit to supporting the Meewasin Valley Authority, saying these were relatively small amounts and went towards something a lot of Saskatoon residents supported.
Shane Partridge spoke on behalf of the Pleasant Hill community, advocating for the city to help fund dedicated alternative response officers for the community, saying they had received support from other community associations on the matter.
It was noted that the city can’t direct the Saskatoon Police Service on what to do with funding. Partridge clarified that he wants to build awareness around the situation, saying they won’t get officers if they stay quiet.
A range of other speakers took to the podium, speaking on climate change, the Remai Modern budget, bus fees and street sweeping.
The Saskatoon Police Service business plan and budget for the next two years was presented by board chair Jo Custead, who said the the police association and CUPE contracts have expired, so additional impacts to the budget could result from that.
Custead gave an overview of of the public safety environment in Saskatoon, saying calls for service have been increasing since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
“We’re anticipating 10 per cent more calls this year than last year, so we’re projecting more than 150,000 calls in 2023,” Custead said.
A list of recommendations were given from city administration regarding the police business plan:
- That the Saskatoon Police Service business line operating budget for 2024 totalling $134,455,700 in expenditures and $12,862,400 in revenues be approved;
- That the Saskatoon Police Service business line operating plan for 2025 totalling $141,438,400 in expenditures and $12,996,300 in revenues be approved;
- That the 2024 capital budget totalling $3,643,000 be approved; and
- That the 2025 capital plan totalling $2,908,000 be approved.
A range of questions were volleyed at Saskatoon police to further clarify the business plan, but Coun. Troy Davies asked if it was possible in the future to see how city growth is impacting police, as well as how wellness centres and detox clinics coming from the provincial government are affecting surrounding neighbourhoods and what resources are needed for the area.
Police chief Troy Cooper said this was something that happens after the fact, saying that they have to assess what other resources are in the area, adding that there needs to be a bit of flexibility to move with potential changes in the community.
Davies said people can expect to see him vote to not support a lot of things during these budget deliberations but said policing was unfortunately needed in the city.
“We cannot reduce or even look at not keeping up to pace with our police services,” Davies said.
Coun. Randy Donauer also said he was in favour, but said he wants to see significant movement in the property tax increase over the next three days.
“The reality of it is we don’t have the money to meet all the requests that we heard this morning, a long list of speakers asking us to spend more money,” Donauer said.
Many other councillors supported the police budget as well, but it was noted that there needs to be a discussion around moving away from providing resources for policing in a reactive way and start finding ways to mitigate these concerns before they begin.
The four recommendations passed unanimously.
A huge chunk of the of the budget agenda still remains, with the next items listed being the Saskatoon Library business plan and budget, arts, culture and events venues business plan and budget, a mass of general reports diving into things like city staffing and inflationary effects on construction, as well as individual business line reports with several recommendations listed in each.
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