Document touts improvements to affordable housing and public transit
St. John’s City Council’s 2014 budget boosts spending by nine per cent, touts improvements to affordable housing and public transit — but warns of a growing fiscal imbalance with the province.
St. John's City Hall. — file photo
Council is set to approve the $272-million budget — up 9.4 per cent from the $249 million 2013 budget — this evening with no residential or commercial tax increases. The tax rates remain 8.1 and 26.2 mils respectively, but council is forecasting greater tax revenue, as happened in 2013. This past year, city revenue was $260 million, up from the budgeted $249 million, while the city’s expenditures, $250 million, were $1.2 million over budget.
Coun. Danny Breen said the city is expecting, when all the numbers were in, a 2013 surplus of between $9 million and $11 million, largely from residential and business realty tax revenue being higher than anticipated.
“There’s also a higher surplus in the water tax that we’ve reinvested in the water tax accounts, so that we can not have an increase in water tax either this year.”
On the expenditure side, the increase in spending is largely due to wastewater and water treatment, said Breen. Spending in the water department is going from $33.7 million budgeted in 2013 to $39.1 million in 2014.
“It’s a little bit exaggerated because we do manage the regional wastewater and regional water for the whole region,” he said. “So we’re bringing on Bay Bulls Big Pond, Petty Harbour Long Pond, and regional wastewater treatment plant at Riverhead will be fully operational, so they’ve added to that cost.”
The increase in spending on core services from last year is up $5.4 million, about three per cent, said Breen, who noted that some of the increase in water spending will be recovered from those municipalities.
Breen also said the province needs to pay its fair share of costs. “This a big issue for the city of St. John’s,” he said. “Over a two-year period, we’ll pay about $20 million in HST and payroll taxes. Last year we lost our municipal operating grant, so we get no operating money from the province right now.”
Without a better fiscal arrangement from the province, warns the budget, the residential tax rate may go to 8.6 mils in 2015 and to 9.1 mils in 2016, with commercial tax rate going to 27.2 mils in 2015 and 28.2 mils in 2016.