SUMMERSIDE - Economic and population growth were two of the key areas identified for the future development of Summerside during a pre-budget public meeting on the 2014 municipal budget.
The turnout was sparse with the attendees made up mostly of city staff, city councillors, members of the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Summerside Inc. and local developers. Councillors and staff did not participant in the discussions
Participants were given a list of four question to be discussed. The questions asked what city programs and services are most important, how should the city deal with the costs of delivering these programs and services, should the city increase its $68 million debt to take on significant infrastructure projects and how can the city be more effective with tax dollars - what areas could be trimmed?
Director of Finance, Rob Philpot outlined the city budget and the sources of revenue Summerside receives.
He said one of the key factors in funding programs is the revenue the city receives from the province.
He said up until 2008, Summerside received a tax credit for all property taxes collected. That changed in 2008 when the province opted for a grant system.
Under the grant system the city has received less provincial funding. Philpot said between 2008 and 2013, the city has received $1.3 million less under the grant program than it would have received under the tax credit system.
He said if the city builds 100 new homes this year, under the grant program, it will not be credited for the growth and it will not affect the provincial funding level.
With costs to provide programs increasing more rapidly than revenue for the city, new sources of revenue need to be found.
Many at the meeting said the city needs to increase its tax base through economic development and bring more people into the community to buy homes and pay taxes. Otherwise, the only means the city has of increasing revenue is to increase property taxes.
Credit Union Place came under discussion as a drain on the city coffers.
Peter Sorenson said the building is not a generator of revenue and, although the city built it with help from the federal and provincial governments, the cost of operating the facility is being borne 100 per cent by the city.
Paul Power, a spokesman for one of the groups, raised the issue of charging user fees for those outside the city boundaries who frequent Credit Union Place. He said city taxpayers are paying for the building but the from outside the community have the same access top the programs and services and but are not financially supporting the facility.
One group wanted more focus on the amalgamated areas of the city to ensure these residents catch up with the infrastructure already in place in the former Town of Summerside. Items such as sidewalks and ditch infilling were two of the issues raised.
The city intends to keep up the open line of communication with the public and will be posting the four questions posed at the meeting the city’s website for further public input.
Philpot said the management team and directors met on Friday for their own discussions and will be including comments from the public before making a report to city council for its budget deliberations.