Saskatoon’s mayor and city councillors are having their second special budget meeting on Tuesday, when they will consider some options to address the 2024-25 budget shortfall.
Council will be getting into the weeds over how to avoid the projected $51-million funding gap for next year. If they change nothing, residents could be hit with a 17 per cent tax hike in 2024.
Transportation is one of the big budget line items up for discussion.
One of the options is increasing parking fees. The report says bumping up parking fees by 50 cents an hour would result in an extra $1 million in revenue. It also mentions an additional 15-cent transaction fee in the parking app as an option.
When it comes to transit services like busses, the city could save money by not hiring any new bus drivers, but it would affect services in Aspen Ridge and Brighton.
At their first special budget meeting in June, council asked the administration to report back on the impacts of a hiring freeze for city employees. City manager Jeff Jorgenson’s report, provided as information for council to receive on Tuesday’s agenda, says a hiring freeze could be problematic if there’s no backfill for when employees retire or resign.
“This would lead to unpredictable public service and constantly changing conditions,” said Jorgenson, “which would require ongoing resources to rebalance workloads and communicate service updates to the public.”
Uncertainty for small businesses and residents
Brianna Solberg, the legislative affairs director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, spoke with Candice Lipski on CBC Radio’s Saskatoon Morning, discussing the concerns small businesses have with the budget shortfall and property taxes.
“Property taxes are particularly harmful to small business because they are profit insensitive,” said Solberg, “meaning business owners have to pay them even if they aren’t bringing in any revenue and 53 per cent of Saskatchewan small businesses indicate that property taxes are the most harmful.”
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Higher property tax rates could cause businesses to lay off staff or raise prices — or, worst of all, Solberg said businesses could close their doors for good.
Solberg said she thinks the city needs to prioritize essential services, such as the police service and road repairs.
Gage Haubrich, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, also spoke with CBC Radio’s Saskatoon Morning, and said residents were probably a little shocked to learn how dire the city’s funding gap is.
“If you look at it compared to Regina, the City of Saskatoon spends about $400 more per person than Regina does,” Haubrich said.
“Some of that comes from our own utility, but some people don’t know where that extra money is going and it kind of caught them blindsided when they found out they might have to pay this extra property tax hike.”
Haubrich said a property tax increase near seven per cent would be more reasonable because it would roughly match the rate of inflation in 2022.
“That would still put a crunch on families, but it would be much better than what they are currently facing right now.”