Mayor stresses need to re­duce cost of city op­er­a­tions even more

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - CITY + REGION - PHIL TANK ptank@post­media.com twit­ter.com/think­tankSK

Saska­toon Mayor Char­lie Clark says city hall will con­tinue to ex­plore all op­tions to lower the 2018 prop­erty tax hike, in­clud­ing seek­ing in­creased tax­a­tion pow­ers from the prov­ince.

Clark held a news con­fer­ence Tues­day to tout a City of Saska­toon re­port de­tail­ing how ef­forts to cut costs and find more ef­fi­cient ways of de­liv­er­ing ser­vices have saved the city close to $289 mil­lion since 2009.

Even with the sav­ings, Clark said he has heard from res­i­dents who are con­cerned about the po­ten­tial for an­other big prop­erty tax in­crease in 2018. The city’s latest bud­get up­date shows a po­ten­tial prop­erty tax in­crease of 5.77 per cent for 2018 just to main­tain cur­rent ser­vice lev­els.

The pend­ing tax in­crease is com­pounded by re­duced rev­enues from the prov­ince, Clark said.

“We’re con­tin­u­ing to work and ad­vo­cate with the prov­ince for a fair and sus­tain­able fund­ing plan into the future, but we rec­og­nize that rev­enues are not the same as they have been in some of those boom times.”

Clark said he is talk­ing with other mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers through the Saskatchewan Ur­ban Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion about the pos­si­bil­ity of greater tax­a­tion pow­ers from the prov­ince. Clark ad­mit­ted talks with the prov­ince have not gone far and that no sin­gle tool has been iden­ti­fied by mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

He men­tioned a tax on gaso­line sales as a pos­si­bil­ity to pay for road main­te­nance at Tues­day’s news con­fer­ence, a sug­ges­tion Clark also made in Au­gust 2013 while still a city coun­cil­lor.

Ma­te­rial handed out at the news con­fer­ence in­cluded a pam­phlet stat­ing that since 2009, the city has cut $144 mil­lion in costs through “cre­ative in­fra­struc­ture so­lu­tions” and saved $145 mil­lion through “op­er­a­tional ef­fi­cien­cies.”

Clark held aloft thick an­nual re­ports from sev­eral years that de­tailed the city’s ef­forts to cut costs and find sav­ings. Those ini­tia­tives must con­tinue, he stressed.

He cited the new en­ergy-ef­fi­cient po­lice head­quar­ters, which has housed the po­lice ser­vice since 2014, as an ex­am­ple that has re­duced an­nual costs for power and heat­ing by about $650,000.

The de­ci­sion to close a fire­hall on Taylor Street and build a new one on Clarence Av­enue South will save the city $6 mil­lion in cap­i­tal costs and $3 mil­lion in an­nual op­er­at­ing costs by elim­i­nat­ing the need for an­other new fire­hall, one re­port sug­gests.

The re­port also sug­gests the city is sav­ing about $500,000 in an­nual leas­ing costs be­cause it bought the for­mer down­town post of­fice build­ing in 2013 for $13.4 mil­lion.

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