The city of St. John’s won’t raise property or business taxes in 2012, but water bills will go up about six per cent.
That means home owners will have to pay $35 more in the coming year per residential unit, while businesses with water meters will see the six per cent added to the cost based on how much water they use.
On Monday, city council unanimously approved the budget for the coming year, something that hasn’t happened since before the last municipal election.
The chairman of the city’s finance committee, Coun. Danny Breen, delivered the budget and announced a $3.4-million surplus, and a savings on expenditures allocated for 2011 of about $300,000.
The rate of growth on city expenditures has been more than halved from last year’s 8.9 per cent to 4.3 per cent.
Unprecedented growth in the city over the last five years is credited with the good news on taxes.
“Revenues from all sources have increased by 36.8 per cent or $63.3 million over (that) period,” Breen said. “But the cost of running the city has also increased.”
During the past year the city asked each of its departments to try to find ways to cut costs within their budgets and Breen credited that for keeping the rate of growth under control.
The city won’t cut services in the coming year, and a number of them — including Metrobus, Paratransit, sidewalk snowclearing, fire protection and recreation — will get an infusion of cash.
The budget also noted the importance of the arts, culture and history of the city.
“We must also be mindful not to allow economic prosperity to override a firm desire to maintain and nurture the unique culture and heritage of our beautiful city,” said Breen.
But the city also used its budget to criticize the provincial government, and appeal to it for more help.
St. John’s will pay $128,000 during the coming year to continue the school crossing guard program.
“The city is, however, more than disappointed that neither the provincial government nor the Eastern School District have stepped up to assist the city with this program,” said Breen.
The city cut the program in last year’s budget — as education is a provincial responsibility — but reinstated the program after the province refused to take it over.
The city also plans to build 23 new affordable housing units, to add to its current 426. But Breen slammed the province, who is a funding partner in the project, for charging the city HST on the construction of those much-needed homes.
Coun. Tom Hann also took a swing at the province’s lack of help with public transit.
“They charge us ... $380,000 (in fuel and other) taxes to drive our buses on our streets which we maintain,” he said.
The city has already asked the province to negotiate a new financial arrangement with it, and other towns and cities.
The business community applauded the budget.
“It has no increases in tax, it curtails spending which has been a big concern of ours,” said Nancy Healey, the CEO of the St. John’s Board of Trade. “Just having a budget speech articulates a vision and the priorities ... of where the city wants to go.”
“We’re really pleased with it,” added Bradley George, the director of provincial affairs with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. “ranted there was an increase in water tax but we’re glad to see the property taxes stay the same.”
Budget highlights include:
‰ Seniors who meet the city’s criteria will continue to get a 25 per cent discount on their taxes.
‰ The sidewalk snowclearing budget will almost double, with an additional $250,000 going to hire new workers and for supplies and $450,000 for three new sidewalk snowplows.
‰ Metrobus will get 30 new buses at a cost of $14 million, with nine of them expected to be put into service in 2012. The city’s new bus depot is also scheduled to open in the coming year. The Paratransit budget is getting about a 30 per cent increase, with a new operator taking over the service in the new year.
‰ The city will pay $200,000 to design a new fire station in the city’s west end, with the hope that construction on the new hall be completed in 2013. The city will also call for tenders for two new pumper trucks in the new year, and has allocated $760,000 to buy them.
‰ The city’s credit rating is set at Aa2, the same as the province’s. That means taxpayers will pay about $175,000 less a year to service the city’s debt over the next two decades.
‰ Banks will now be charged a $15 transaction fee for collecting property taxes from people who have rolled that cost into their mortgages. That’s expected to bring a half million dollars into the city’s coffers.
‰ Building fees for single- and double-family homes will be going up — about $500 to $600 on a $300,000 home — to bring those costs in line with commercial development. The $660,000 that change is expected to bring in is to help pay for the cost of city building inspectors.
‰ The city’s capital works budget will be announced in the new year, but recreation will be have high priority. It’s hoped the Mews and Wedgewood Park community centres, as well as a new multi-purpose centre, will be approved depending on help from the province and Ottawa.