City of Grande Prairie residents can expect a 3.28 per cent property tax increase next year.

After three days of budget deliberations city council brought the proposed 6.09 per cent increase down through a variety of cuts. 

“These cuts come with some reduction in service, some organizational impacts and some difficult choices,” said Mayor Jackie Clayton.

Initial cuts included $758,000 in staffing changes, a $112,000 reduction in gravel maintenance and another $50,000 in dust suppression. By the end of the third day of deliberations, the tax increase sat at 4.05 per cent.
Mayor Clayton suggested council use $500,000 from the Council Strategic Initiatives reserve and $500,000 from the Financial Stabilization reserves to lower it further. 

“I recognize that our reserves do need some support, and they need some fattening up, but now’s not the time; now’s the time to support the community,” she said.

A 4.05 per cent increase translates to about $10.54 per month for the average resident; 3.28 per cent rate equates to about $8.52, said Danielle Whiteway, chief financial officer. 

Clayton said although the reduction is only a couple more dollars on the average residential tax bill, it still can help due to the increased cost of utilities, gas, and mortgages. 

“We’ve already cut capital tax in ways that I think are one-time cuts unless we want to see our roads massively decline; here we’re artificially lowering taxes for one year by cutting from reserves, but that’s not a structural cut, that’s a cut that needs to be made up in future years,” said Coun. Dylan Bressey. 

“It’s going to be a big increase in the future, and for me, I’d rather have little increases every year than a massive increase in a few years, which I think is where we’re heading to if we’re going towards this.”

Coun. Chris Thiessen said when he spoke with community members, he told them if council could get the increase under five per cent, he would be happy. 

“I don’t find this is strategic use of our money,” he said, noting the city’s use of $1 million to reduce the tax rate.

“I can’t even buy this cup of coffee for $2 a month, let alone a pair of shoes for my kids.”

“I don’t know what kind of savings we’re actually generating, and I don’t know what kind of hurt we might be passing on to future administrations and councils.”

He noted that any funds taken from the reserves must be replaced. 

Coun. Mike O’Connor said he fears moving funds from the reserves could result in future tax increases jumping into the double digits. 

Mayor Clayton rebutted, saying she doesn’t believe using the reserves will result in the tax rate rising into the double digits in future years. 

She said the perception of many residents is that Grande Prairie has the highest taxes in Alberta but said for the average tax bill, the city is about the seventh or sixth highest in the province.

Coun. Wade Pilat supported the mayor, noting that a lower tax rate could help the city economically. 

“Having lower taxes is going to create more economic development, more than a lot of other things that we do,” said Pilat.

Coun. Dylan Bressey said he doesn’t believe the reduction in the tax increase is going to help the city’s most vulnerable.

“A million dollars a year to invest in our food banks, a million dollars a year to invest in our transit system, a million dollars a year invested in creating low-cost recreation, I can think of so many places we put a million dollars a year to help our poorest residents, the ones that are struggling the most with inflated costs that go so much further than giving $2 a month off every single family in the city,” he said.

Coun. Gladys Blackmore said council should try to decrease the tax rate any way they can because additional increases will be seen on tax bills, including the Grande Spirit Foundation requisition and provincial school taxes.

“We have to make every move we can to make the city as affordable as we can,” said Blackmore.

Council voted to move $1 million dollars from reserves to reduce the tax rate, with Bressey, Thiessen and O’Connor opposed. 

Budget highlights

Council committed $10 million to a future recreation centre, expected to be a dome structure to house sports such as soccer and cricket. Council also directed administration to work with user groups, including Swan City FC to identify financial support for the facility. 

During budget deliberations, council also approved $500,000 to the Maskwa Medical Centre as it looks to build a facility to train local doctors and provide specialized treatments. 

The Grande Prairie Public Library will receive a five per cent increase in funding after the library asked the city for a 10 per cent increase. 

Council also approved $333,000 for Rising Above’s new build that will expand its capacity by 30 per cent for faith-based addictions treatment.

Other highlights of the budget include:

-$16.8 million in roads, bridges, pedestrian links, and intersection improvements

-$300,000 for playground resurfacing and replacement

-$50,000 for healthcare attraction and retention

-$50,000 for the Indigenous Relations Framework

“We believe the budget approved ensures we are able to provide our essential services, stimulate economic growth, and support the community’s needs and wants for the coming year,” said Whiteway.

The tax rate is not official until voted upon at the next city council meeting scheduled for Nov. 27.

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Nov 23, 2023 at 09:42

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta

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