Hay River town council has approved its 2020 budgets, but it was far from a ringing endorsement of the municipality’s financial plans for the coming year.
Five councillors backed the budget at a special meeting on Dec. 11, while two did not – Keith Dohey and Jeff Groenewegen.
Most notably, the operations and maintenance (O&M) budget will mean a two per cent tax increase and a reduction of the early tax payment discount from four per cent to two per cent.
Dohey expressed concern that the town is not being funded for things like highway rescue from the GNWT or paid for use of things like the sewage lagoon by other communities.
“While we’re not bringing in revenue from outside sources, we’re continually
asking for more from residents,” he said. “So I have a problem with that. Because of that, I won’t be supporting this budget.”
Dohey said he could live with the two per cent tax increase because it is a small incremental increase.
The councillor noted the discount for early payment of taxes is something accessed by 70-80 per cent of taxpayers.
Sam Mugford, the town’s director of finance and administration, offered numbers on how much the reduction of the discount will save the town.
“At a four per cent discount, that costs the town $135,000 a year,” he said. “So it’s roughly $34,000 per per cent.”
That means the town will save about $68,000 by reducing the discount from four to two per cent.
Dohey questioned the need for some of the proposed spending, such as $60,000 for community television and $500,000 to inspect the water intake pipe in Great Slave Lake, which he said could perhaps be delayed to 2021.
The councillor also connected the plan to buy a new $180,000 ambulance to the GNWT’s lack of funding for highway rescue, which is a territorial responsibility.
“At the end of the day, we’re back to that argument that we’ve been having for 20 years about looking after a highway that doesn’t belong to us,” Dohey said. “We don’t plow that highway when it snows, so why are we asked to look after it with an ambulance? I think when it comes down to this budget we need to go and hammer the government on that. If they don’t want to pay us to look after it, buy us an ambulance.”
Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard said he supports the budgets as proposed.
“I think the biggest issue with some of this is our O&M links to our capital and our reserves, and those are depleting and they need to be kept up, especially I think at this time when the federal government is giving us infrastructure money to do some of the important infrastructure that we need,” he said.
Bouchard cautioned that the federal funds may not exist after the next national election.
“It’s a minority government,” he said. “That money might disappear, so we need to take advantage of that.”
Bouchard also noted that the town’s costs are continuing to go up, and tax increases in recent years have not kept up to inflation.
Without small tax increases, residents would eventually be faced with a large increase, he said.
Bouchard said he agreed with Dohey on looking for more sources of revenue.
As for supporting community television, the deputy mayor said more information is needed, including on how many people rely on it if they can’t afford satellite or cable television.
In explaining his support for the budgets, Coun. Steve Anderson said he’d rather see a small incremental increase in taxes than a larger one further on down the road.
Mayor Kandis Jameson said the 2020 budgets are fair, adding, “Budgets are always a work in progress.”