Maple Creek taxpayers will face slightly higher bills as the Town and provincial government wrestle with financial challenges.
Town Council has agreed to keep the uniform mill rate at 13. However, the mill rate factors have changed.
Residential has gone up from 0.607 to 0.609, while multi-residential (duplexes, apartment blocks etc.) has increased from 2.13 to 2.3.
The other factors are: commercial, 3 (from 2.13); and agriculture, 2.3 (from 2.13).
Meanwhile, the base tax for all property classes remains at $1,050.
“It was a hard call for us to have to increase taxes, but we need to move forward,” Michelle McKenzie, the Mayor of Maple Creek, told the News-Times. “We can’t stay stagnant. We need to make sure that our community has services.
“We need to make sure Maple Creek remains a great place to live, work and do business.”
McKenzie said efforts had been made to ensure the tax burden was fairly distributed and that the impact on taxpayers was as soft as possible.
“We really looked at ways to make sure we weren’t putting a hardship on anybody during COVID-19, because it is hard times for everybody. One of the things to consider is that we are a business.
“We need to continue providing services, and the only way we can is through taxes and fees.”
McKenzie the drive for a balanced budget meant cost-cutting in such areas as recreation and a sidewalks improvement project, which was deemed non-essential for this year.
The Town is also looking to get its own Public Works crews to do work like filling in potholes, instead of hiring a construction company. This is another cost-saver.
As part of its 2021-22 Budget, the Government of Saskatchewan also announced a slight increase in Education Property Tax mill rates for 2021 in line with year-over-year inflation.
The following rates are to be levied with respect to every property class for the 2021 taxation year:
Agricultural property, 1.36 mills; residential property, 4.46 mills; commercial/industrial property, 6.75 mills; and resource property, 9.79 mills.
Some separate school divisions have chosen to set and levy their own education property taxes, and in those instances those rates will apply.
Since the last revaluation in 2017, the taxable assessment of agriculture properties in Saskatchewan has increased, while the taxable assessment of residential, commercial/industrial, and resource properties have declined. “As our government continues to provide increasing support and funding to our education system, the province will be slightly adjusting its EPT mill rates to align with year-over-year inflation,” Government Relations Minister Don McMorris said. “Education property taxes will continue to be significantly lower than when our government took office in 2007.”
2021 is a revaluation year for property tax assessments in Saskatchewan; the next revaluation year will be in 2025. Provincial legislation requires all Saskatchewan properties be revalued every four years, since their values change over time. The 2021 revaluation follows the recent decision by the government to reduce the percentage of value taxable assessment rate for commercial/industrial and resource properties from 100 per cent to 85 per cent. The education property tax system in Saskatchewan was redesigned and property taxes were lowered significantly in 2008-09.
At a special Town Council meeting on Tuesday, a bylaw was passed to set the uniform mill rate for 2021 in the Town of Maple Creek.
Gary Schlageter, Chief Administrative Officer, explained that it was good practice to have such a bylaw, even when the mill rate has not changed.
In an interview with the News-Times, McKenzie said the Town of Maple Creek had faced significant challenges in setting its 2021 budget, which will see total revenues of $7,936,449,69 and total expenses of $7,936,163,60, leaving a balance of $286.09.
She said the budget covered payments for two of the Town’s major projects: the lagoon (wastewater treatment upgrades), and the new fire hall.
The third big project, a new swimming pool, is not included.
“We are still having discussions on where we are going with the swimming pool,” she said. “As of right now, there is nothing in this budget for the pool.”
Describing the budget as tight, McKenzie said tough decisions were made to trim costs, while preserving essential services like fire, policing, roads, infrastructure, water and sewer.
Recreation was one area where purse strings were tightened. There had been hopes of improving the ball diamonds by putting in new shale, new fences, and a water treatment system. However, after discussions involving Gavin Graves, the director of operations, and Schlageter, it was decided that the plan was not a priority for this year.
In addition, plans to hire a recreational co-ordinator were shelved.
Transportation was also subject to cost-cutting, with a five-year plan for enhancing sidewalks and creating rolled curbs being put on hold. Areas such as Marsh Street and Pacific Avenue were in line for improvement.
McKenzie, however, pointed out that a long-range program to pave every street in Maple Creek by 2050 remained intact.
Potholes was another issue that came under fierce scrutiny. A $276,000 cost was pared down to $100,000 as the Town looks to use its own crews more frequently for jobs they have the skills for, instead of hiring outsiders.
“The Town of Maple Creek has the ability to deal with its own potholes,” she said. “We want to utilize our crew as much as we can, even for fixing some of the sidewalks.”
McKenzie said that while the budget had required difficult decisions, the process had been made very smooth, thanks to Schlageter.
“Kudos to Gary,” she said. “I think we’ve come up with a good plan.”