Brandon City Council is proposing a 6.9 per cent increase to municipal taxes, but that number will be further dissected at the city’s budget deliberations later this month.
The proposed figure is much higher than in previous years. In 2021, city administration proposed a 3.15 per cent tax increase, but councillors instead voted to use COVID-19 Safe Restart funds provided by the federal government to impose a one per cent tax decrease.
In 2020, administration proposed an initial tax increase of 2.97 per cent before whittling it down to an increase of 0.469 per cent.
The city’s suggestion of a 6.9 per cent increase will be subject to deliberation and has not been finalized.
Unlike higher levels of government, municipalities in Manitoba are required by law to always run balanced budgets, meaning everything must be paid for by reserve funds, revenues, grants or through lines of credit.
Speaking to the Sun in an interview Thursday afternoon, city manager Ron Bowles and city treasurer Dean Hammond said the city has some remaining Safe Restart funds, but not as much as last year.
"With the amount we used last year versus the amount we’re proposing to use this year, it’s about $1.2 million net less," Hammond said. "I wish we had another $1.6 million of COVID money to put towards this year’s budget, but we don’t."
"I personally see that as a very positive thing," Bowles said about the city using Safe Restart funds to lessen the tax burden last year.
"They took this money and used it to help people when they needed it the most ... When you only look at percentages, it looks like you’ve gone from a negative to 6.9 per cent. You sort of have to add the two years together."
Capital spending in the 2022 budget proposal totals $132 million, much higher than the $63.8 million allocated in last year’s budget.
However, $40.4 million of that capital spending will be covered by federal and provincial grants, according to the city’s media release from Thursday.
Five projects, including $22.5 million of contributions to the ongoing upgrades to Brandon’s water treatment plant, $14.1 million for the new outdoor sports complex on Veterans Way, $11.5 million to rehabilitate the runway at Brandon Municipal Airport, $4.1 million for the Brandon Police Service’s new permanent detention block, and replacing four Brandon Access Transit buses at a cost of $700,000, are said to be mostly or entirely covered by grant funding.
The city is also hoping to get a grant toward the $1 million cost of renovating the entrance to the Western Manitoba Regional Library branch at The Town Centre.
Projects not covered by grant funding include $31.7 million worth of drainage improvements across the city, a new sewer lift station for the city’s southern areas at a cost of $15 million, a new $1.8 million multipurpose ladder and rescue vehicle for Brandon Fire and Emergency Services, a new wastewater maintenance building for $1.7 million, and the addition of automated upgrades for water treatment for $1.3 million.
For general operations, the budget forecasts $93.63 million in spending, up almost $10 million from the $83.67 million in the 2021 approved budget. However, due to projected revenue increases, the city doesn’t have to fill that entire gap, just a portion of it.
Major revenue increases from last year in the proposed budget include an anticipated boost of approximately $1.26 million from engineering services, $760,368 more in revenues from Brandon Municipal Airport and $192,320 extra from police services. The proposed municipal tax increase would earn the city approximately $3.02 million extra.
There are several costs the city is expecting to spend significantly more on, too. For instance, the city had just $88,620 in the 2021 approved budget for affordable housing grants. The proposed 2022 budget lists approximately $3.84 million for the same line item. According to Hammond, that increase comes from a $3.7-million grant the city received from Manitoba Housing last year and has a neutral impact on the overall budget.
Costs at the Brandon Municipal Airport are expected to increase from $980,471 to approximately $1.63 million, but the expected increase in revenues ultimately leads to a net decrease of $113,000 in expenses for the facility. The city also received a Western Economic Diversification grant worth $453,000 from the federal government to buy a new snowplow and other equipment for the airport.
At the municipal landfill, operations funding is set to increase from approximately $1.4 million to $2 million. Parks operations are also set for a funding boost to approximately $3.57 million, up from around $2.97 million last year.
Funding for the Brandon Police Service is being boosted by approximately $900,000 to around $17.9 million, up from roughly $17 million.
Transit services are set for a funding increase around $270,000, and urban renewal operations will get an extra $230,000 in their proposed budget.
Hammond said the preliminary budget was finalized before the omicron variant of COVID-19 was identified. That means for some categories like recreation and the airport, the budget takes into account an expected increase in activity.
If the pandemic continues to suppress certain kinds of activities, operations costs may be lower for some departments but revenues might be lower as well.
Some of the other changes when it comes to the operations budget, Hammond said, are appropriations to reserves for the purposes of funding capital programs either in the current or future years. The proposed budget sees approximately $1.6 million more than last year being set aside for reserves.
"This is a number that we would have preferred to not give council, but the economic realities of budget have caught up with us," Hammond said about the tax increase. "With COVID, inflation is at play and given our huge capital program, we need to start putting money into reserves to start funding those projects. That’s a large portion of the increase in this year’s budget."
Councillors will debate the proposed budget and vote on changes over Jan. 28 and Jan. 29 in public sessions that will be livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel.
Because of the current situation with COVID-19, there will be no delegations or presentations directly to council over those days, but residents can suggest changes or submit feedback to the proposed budget by emailing email@example.com. There is also a chance that proceedings may be delayed because of COVID.
The proposed budget documents can be found on the city’s website at brandon.ca/budget/2022-budget.
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