Swift Cur­rent property taxes in­creas­ing 9.2 per cent

The Southwest Booster - - NEWS - SCOTT AN­DER­SON SOUTH­WEST BOOSTER

The aver­age Swift Cur­rent home­owner will pay an additional $6.67 per month in property taxes af­ter Swift Cur­rent City Coun­cil unan­i­mously ap­proved their 2014 Budget.

Coun­cil ap­proved an over­all 9.2 per cent in­crease in property taxes in or­der to gen­er­ate an additional $2.4 mil­lion in taxation from what was ap­proved last year. Swift Cur­rent’s over­all budget of $67,179,596 is an in­crease from the $64.7 mil­lion budget in 2013.

A break­down of the num­bers shows the City ap­proved a 6.9 per cent in­crease, or an additional $5 per month on aver­age, in or­der to main­tain and im­prove civic ser­vices. An additional 2.3 per cent in­crease was ap­proved for cap­i­tal projects, with the aver­age house­hold pay­ing an ex­tra $1.67 per month to­wards cap­i­tal projects.

The budget is an additional step in the city’s newly ap­proved Strate­gic Plan, which in­cludes a tar­get of reach­ing 25,000 res­i­dents by the year 2025.

“Ob­vi­ously growth is our mes­sage go­ing for­ward,” Schafer said fol­low­ing Mon­day’s City Coun­cil meet­ing.

“We want to send a re­ally clear mes­sage that we’re go­ing to shift the way we think around here. We want to grow the pop­u­la­tion. We want the ben­e­fits that come with growth - the in­creased ameni­ties, the lower cost for pro­vid­ing ser­vices in our com­mu­nity for more people us­ing them, the ben­e­fits to or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Bron­cos and In­di­ans, and users of cul­ture and arts.”

In the area of Cap­i­tal Projects, a se­ries of tar­geted projects were ap­proved in or­der to en­hance the life­styles of cur­rent res­i­dents and help at­tract new res­i­dents and businesses. The largest ex­pen­di­ture is $2.1 mil­lion to up­grade and re­ha­bil­i­tate roads, in­ter­sec­tions and side­walks. A por­tion of that fund­ing will in­clud­ing dol­lars for an en­gi­neer­ing re­port re­gard­ing the 2nd Av­enue Over­pass Bridge which will al­low the city to eval­u­ate fu­ture up­grades and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion to the struc­ture. How­ever this year’s road and side­walk spend­ing is down sharply from the $3.7 mil- lion in­vest­ment ap­proved in the 2013 budget.

Other in­vest­ment ar­eas in­clude $990,000 to en­hance city recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties in­clud­ing Ki­netic Park, the iPlex, and the Aquatic fa­cil­i­ties. Fund­ing has again been set aside to com­plete the schematic de­signs for the In­te­grated Fa­cil­ity, with the fi­nal plans help­ing to cre­ate a doc­u­ment that will at­tract in­vestors, spon­sor­ships and grants.

Other cap­i­tal project ex­pen­di­tures in­clude:

- A fi­nal in­vest­ment of $309,000 will be made on a Res­cue Pumper truck for the Swift Cur­rent Fire Depart­ment to re­place one out­dated unit.

- A to­tal of $150,000 will be spent on im­prove­ments at the Chi­nook Golf Course.

- $123,000 in­vested into city cul­tural fa­cil­i­ties.

- $100,000 for a sec­ond ac­ces­si­bil­ity struc­ture in the Cen­ten­nial school play­ground.

- $150,000 for im­prove- ments at the ACT ac­ces­si­bil­ity park.

- an $80,000 in­vest­ment to com­plete the sur­vey por­tion of the Busi­ness Re­ten­tion and Ex­pan­sion Ini­tia­tive sur­vey.

Tim Mar­cus, Deputy Chief Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fi­cer/Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer high­lighted that a few main ar­eas im­pacted on this year’s budget to budget in­creases.

While op­er­at­ing ex­penses are up $4 mil­lion, $1.4 mil­lion of that to­tal is as­so­ci­ated with the Light and Power util­ity’s in­creased cost of pur­chas­ing elec­tric­ity.

The other ma­jor area was in the fis­cal ser­vices cat­e­gory, which in­cludes the City’s bor­rowed money in 2013, with this budget area grow­ing from $2.1 mil­lion to $3.1 mil­lion.

“That’s strictly the prin­ci­ple and in­ter­est as­so­ci­ated with the money we bor­rowed,” Mar­cus ex­plained.

Schafer noted that other com­mu­ni­ties across the prov­ince have ap­proved or are ap­prov­ing tax hikes. And while Swift Cur­rent’s in­crease is more sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age wise, the city still boasts the low­est mu­nic­i­pal taxes in Saskatchew­an com­pared to other provin­cial cen­tres. When com­par­ing an aver­age 1,600 square foot home, less than five years old, with an as­sessed value near $400,000, Swift Cur­rent’s es­ti­mated 2014 taxes are $1,483, com­pared to $2,217 in Saskatoon and $2,618 in Regina.

“We’re unique in the sense that we’re try­ing to change our strat­egy a lit­tle bit, which makes the job a lit­tle tougher for us.”

Schafer did con­cede that a num­ber of cuts were made from the orig­i­nal budget draft. A to­tal of $18.43 mil­lion in cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­tures were ap­proved in the 2014 budget, a de­crease from the $19.9 mil­lion ap­proved in last year’s budget.

“We’ve cut more out of our cap­i­tal budget this year than we have in any other budget that I’ve been a part of,” he said.

“There’s a lot of things that we cut out of this budget that some may sug­gest is a want, and not a need in our com­mu­nity. But some would also sug­gest that they im­prove the qual­ity of life in Swift Cur­rent. So it’s a tough bal­anc­ing act, but I think we’re happy with the ef­fi­cien­cies that we’re seek­ing and we’ll con­tinue to see.”

While giv­ing unan­i­mous ap­proval to the budget, all coun­cil­lors were ex­cited about the changes oc­cur­ring in Swift Cur­rent and their am­bi­tious strate­gic plan is fu­elling their enthusiasm to grow the com­mu­nity.

“Bud­gets are al­ways tough. Tax in­creases are al­ways tough. But you have to change the way you’re do­ing things if you ex­pect dif­fer­ent re­sults. And we ex­pect dif­fer­ent re­sults - we’re go­ing to grow the city. So we have to change the way that we’ve been bud­get­ing, we have to change the way we’ve been plan­ning, and we have to set some goals and work re­ally hard to achieve them,” ex­plained Coun­cil­lor Pat Friesen.

She re­flected that as a mem­ber of the Swift Cur­rent Cham­ber of Com­merce in the late 80s and early 90s they had a dif­fer­ent fo­cus than what ex­ists to­day.

“At that time our fo­cus was on how can we re­tain the people that we have and the businesses that we have. We weren’t wor­ried about try­ing to grow the city, we were just so con­cerned that we were go­ing to lose more people,” she said.

Deputy Mayor Ryan Plewis ad­mit­ted there were lengthy dis­cus­sions dur­ing budget de­lib­er­a­tions and the num­ber crunch­ing was a dif­fi­cult process.

“For me I think this was one of the more dif­fi­cult bud­gets that I’ve been through as well in my two terms. But I also want to add that I think that this was prob­a­bly one of the most en­joy­able and re­ward­ing budget ex­pe­ri­ences that I’ve been through as well. We made some sig­nif­i­cant steps in how we’re do­ing things as a coun­cil and an ad­min­is­tra­tive team,” Plewis said.

With the di­rec­tion of the budget ty­ing to their strate­gic goals, he said their de­ci­sions are in­tended to make Swift Cur­rent the best place to live with a vi­brant and grow­ing pop­u­la­tion as they aim to grow to 25,000 pop­u­la­tion by 2025.

“I refuse to pro­pose this apolo­get­i­cally. This was a tar­get that wasn’t reached ac­ci­den­tally, and it wasn’t reached be­cause we thought 25 by 25 sounded cute. It’s some­thing that was very in­ten­tional, and some­thing that I think that we can and will achieve.”

“There’s lots of plan­ning about how we’re go­ing to get there. But if we don’t set a tar­get, you’re never go­ing to hit it.”

“There’s a lot of de­tail in how we’re go­ing to hit that tar­get. But the most im­por­tant thing we can do right now is ac­tu­ally set that tar­get we want to hit. I’d rather be ac­cused of be­ing op­ti­mistic than not be­ing able, or will­ing, to set a tar­get for this com­mu­nity. I think that would be a real fail­ing of this coun­cil.”

Coun­cil­lor De­nis Per­rault was also ex­cited about the growth ground­work be­ing pur­sued in this budget.

“What we’re try­ing to look for­ward to is growth. We’re try­ing to look to the fu­ture. You heard the term 25 in 25, al­though ag­gres­sive it’s rea­son­able. And it’s def­i­nitely some­thing that’s founded. It’s founded in a lit­tle bet­ter than two per cent growth on where we’re cur­rently sit­ting based on Health Cards. I feel ex­cited about that. I think that’s some­thing to look for­ward to. It’s a vi­sion. Part of hav­ing a vi­sion is look­ing broader than just the next year. It’s look­ing at the next 10 or 20.”

Per­rault said op­er­a­tional ef­fi­cien­cies were, and will con­tinue to be, a fo­cus by city coun­cil and ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“That’s one thing that’s been tasked to our man­age­ment team by this coun­cil is to look for ef­fi­cien­cies through­out all of our de­part­ments and try­ing to find ways that we can do things right and do things best.”

He also high­lighted Swift Cur­rent’s 2014 budget con­tains no new Full Time Equiv­a­lent em­ployee ad­di­tions.

“What that means is our ad­min­is­tra­tion is tasked to find ef­fi­cien­cies, and they’re tasked to do that while main­tain­ing the cur­rent amount of a work­force that they have. So I chal­lenge them to that. I look for­ward to hear­ing some of the ideas and the in­no­va­tions that are go­ing to be com­ing for­ward in man­ag­ing these as­sets,” Per­rault said.

Coun­cil­lor Ge­orge Bowditch said the budget shows a lot of com­mu­nity pride.

“If we don’t grow we’re go­ing to just stag­nate. We have to grow this commu- nity. I think we’ve got a plan that’s go­ing to do it in a re­spon­si­ble way that’s go­ing to give us the op­por­tu­nity.”

Coun­cil­lor Ron Toles was pleased with the fi­nal draft of the budget, not­ing coun­cil had to make both hard choices and smart de­ci­sions.

“Some of the choices we had to make were hard. There were things that we all agreed we need, but can’t af­ford. There were things we all agreed that are ex­pen­sive but we have to have. So we had to make those hard choices and smart de­ci­sions.”

“We sent back our ini­tial budget and said ‘ This will not do. Go back and fix it, cut it, make it bet­ter.’… ‘you need to find a bet­ter way to do more with less.’”

Coun­cil­lor Gord Budd, who was in­volved in his 10th budget process, said this one backs up their de­sire for growth with ac­tion.

“I hate to say it, but I think this is prob­a­bly the first real budget that I’ve seen in those 10 years that co­in­cides with a re­ally good strate­gic plan.” fu­ture “We’re mak­ing some tough de­ci­sions with our strate­gic plan and with this budget. It’s go­ing to cost people more money to live in Swift Cur­rent than what it has in the past. It’s a sim­ple as that. But we can not keep putting off the in­evitable for years and years. If we had done some­thing like this a num­ber of years ago, we’d be so far ahead of things.”

“This is a turn around year for us,” Budd said. “It’ll be a tough budget, I think, again next year, but you’re go­ing to see some light in the tun­nel next year. I think we’re right at the edge right now.”

“We’re go­ing to look back on this in a few years and say that was the right thing to do.”

Booster photo by Scott An­der­son

Swift Cur­rent Mayor Jer­rod Schafer refers to the 2014 city budget with the theme We’re On Our Way dur­ing the March 17 City Coun­cil meet­ing.

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