Summerside's $53 million 2020/2021 budget has been introduced, and it reveals a city trying to increase revenues in the face of the sharply rising cost of providing services.
In her budget speech, Deputy Mayor Norma McColeman revealed the city's costs have gone up by nearly 13 per cent over the past five years, while revenues have remained relatively consistent.
That being said, the city is projecting a balanced budget - but it's focusing on development to help it get there, rather than the more direct route of raising the municipal tax rates.
"We are taking steps to elevate our commercial and residential tax base to counter the effects of these rising costs," said McColeman.
To that end, Summerside's property tax and electric rates will not increase this year. But the water and sewer rate will rise by one per cent and the ice surface and pool user fees at Credit Union Place will go up by three per cent.
Following McColeman's speech, most councillors were supportive of the budget document, though two did highlight some concerns.
"I'm very pleased council worked together. It wasn't always easy. But at the end of the day, that's the way it worked out and we're pretty fortunate here."
Mayor Basil Stewart
Ward 5 Coun. Greg Campbell noted that in his opinion, the budget process "might be getting a little too political".
He cautioned his fellow councillors they should be heeding the advice of their department heads more when it comes to spending decisions, instead of posturing to score funding wins for their own wards.
"I hope it doesn't go too far that way because every citizen should be treated the same. I thought my ward was a little cheated, but live and learn, I'll have the sleeves rolled up for next year."
Ward 4 Coun. Cory Snow echoed some of Campbell's comments, but was overall supportive of the initiatives announced. Snow was the only councillor to vote against the city's 2019/2020 budget, saying at the time that he didn't like how some decisions associated with last year's ditch infilling program had been made.
Mayor Basil Stewart said he was happy overall with how the budget turned out, though he noted it is always a difficult process to sift through all the requests council receives.
"The list is pretty long," said Stewart.
"But I'm very pleased council worked together. It wasn't always easy. But at the end of the day, that's the way it worked out and we're pretty fortunate here."
Residents have until later this month to provide their councillors with feedback on the budget. Council will vote whether to adopt the document as is or make changes at an upcoming meeting.
In terms of some of the more high-profile investments this year, the city will undertake the following:
- Devote $10 million towards the next stage of development for the Summerside Eco-Business Park
- Renew its half of the funding to keep a community policing officer in Three Oaks Senior High, which is $50,000
- Pay for a review of Summerisde's 60-year-old primary fire station in order to determine whether it should be renovated or replaced
- Contribute $200,000 towards improving the Pope Road extension
- Improve the city's welcome signage, starting at Read's Corner
- Increase the honourariums for mayor and council by two per cent
- Spend more than $300,000 on the ditch infilling program
- Spend $4 million on water and sewer capital improvements
- $1.9 million for electrical improvements
- Give $445,000 to various community organizations throughout the city
- $200,000 to repair the boardwalk
- $75,000 on new playground equipment
- $900,000 for new police and firefighter equipment
- Council also committed to continue working towards a local museum, though no funding was announced for the project
More to come.