The City of Charlottetown presented a deficit budget for the first time in 23 years at a public meeting of Council held at City Hall on Wednesday, March 30. The City will carry a $1.5 million deficit into 2017 to avoid a five percent tax rate increase in 2016.
The City is projecting a budget of $47.55 million, and the Water and Sewer Utility is projecting a budget of $9.66 million. The total deficit the City was facing for 2016 was $3 million – the result of two fiscal years with unprecedented amounts of snow; more than 12 feet in a two-month period in 2015.
Beyond the impact of the cost of snow operations for Public Works, most other City departments were able to come in either on budget or under budget. City officials were able to keep expenditures down in all departments and increase revenues to reduce the $3 million deficit to $1.5 million. Additionally, the City has reduced its grant program and will not fill two vacant Police sergeant positions and two vacant director positions this year to further cut expenses.
Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee said the cost of delivering services in Charlottetown has continued to grow since amalgamation in 1995, but the City has not seen that growth reflected in the Municipal Support Grant funding model.
"We remain confident, after discussions with the provincial government, that the Provincial/Municipal revenue sharing model will be resolved this year," Mayor Lee said. "This resolution will then allow Council to predict what their revenue will be going forward, and allow the City Corporation to better plan for its future expenditures."
With no tax rate increase and no increase in Water and Sewer rates, Council had to find other ways to try to balance the budget. Fees in Planning and Heritage will increase including building permit fees, rezoning fees, and subdivision fees. The cost of parking in City garages will increase on April 1, 2016, to $1.25 per hour, $8.75 per day, and $114 per month (including HST). Metered parking will increase to $1.50 per hour (including HST). Cody Banks and Simmons area rates will increase September 1, 2016 to $178 for prime time, $152 for non-prime time, $118 for minor sport non-prime time, and $63.60 for schools. Parking fines are also increasing.
"Before considering any increases in fees or fines, we reviewed what is being paid in other municipalities and I believe that our pricing is still very reasonable in comparison," said Councillor Melissa Hilton, Chair of the City’s Finance, Audit and Tendering Committee. "By increasing the user fees for some, we were able to avoid a tax rate increase for all. Of course, we would have preferred not to increase any fees, but until the funding model changes, we can no longer afford not to."
Included within the City’s plans for expenditures includes allocations such as $2.8 million to Public Works for street resurfacing and repairs; $47,500 for the Heritage Grant Program; $889,000 for the continuation of the Transit contract; $146,000 to Parks and Recreation for phases 3-5 of the Confederation Trail lighting project and $175,000 for playground equipment and park development.
The City plans to introduce a multi-department mass notification system in 2016 to notify residents of pending emergencies. The technology will be used to notify residents or businesses in specific areas of the City when plowing or de-icing is taking place and more effectively advise people about what is going on in their neighbourhood from a Planning and Heritage perspective.
Council is continuing its commitment to the Integrated Community Sustainability Plan with the goal to create a vibrant and sustainable City. One of the projects includes the heating system repairs and energy efficiency improvement at the City Works Garage, which will reduce the facility’s operating costs, as well as greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100 tonnes.
Council has resolved to maintain its tax incentive grant programs to encourage development. The City will also continue with many of its partnerships including supporting the CARI Complex and Eastlink Centre, as both facilities provide venues for hosting high-level sports teams and community events.
During the budget address on March 30, the latest KPMG international study was released. Councillor Hilton praised the business community for their role in Charlottetown’s impressive ranking.
"Charlottetown ranked 1st in Canada in the area of corporate services, 4th among the 17 featured Canadian cities, and 6th among all 111 cities in the study," Councillor Hilton said. "This study says a lot about Charlottetown and our business climate, and I want to congratulate the business community for creating such a climate."
The 2016 budget documents, including a breakdown of capital projects, is available online and can be accessed at www.charlottetown.ca by clicking on the Budget button or by visiting: www.charlottetown.ca/budgets.php
City of Charlottetown