Estevan property owners are being asked to do their part to help the City dig out of its infrastructure hole.
City council voted Monday night to raise property taxes by one mill, a move that will give them roughly $380,000 more to work with in 2012.
The decision to raise taxes was not a unanimous one as Councillors Roy Ludwig and Brian Johnson both voted against the move. During the debate in chambers, Ludwig said he was in favour of raising taxes by half a mill this year. He added with the decision to remove the tax exemption on commercial properties from the CANDO program in 2013, will also give the City more money to work with in the future.
“I believe we can make do with half a mill without any major misfortune befalling the city,” he said.
Councillor Chris Istace, who along with Lynn Chipley, Dennis Moore and Mayor Gary St. Onge voted for the increase, said raising taxes half a mill would merely cover inflationary costs such as salary increases.
“We are still not at the point where we are meeting the demands of our citizens,” Istace said. “We need to get ahead of the game if we are going to tackle the biggest issue in Estevan which is, of course, growth. Without an increase in the tax rate, how are we going to get ahead?
“With your credit card, if you are only making minimum monthly payments you will be paying that thing off for a long time. We need to get ahead and have a little more money in the coffers. We really need to get aggressive.”
Moore said two and a half years ago the City made a number of promises to residents such as improved sidewalks and many of those same people are still waiting for work to commence. He said the increase was needed so they can have the financial flexibility to get to those jobs.
Chipley said she also feels the one mill increase is warranted, noting the City needs to spend money if anything is going to get done.
“It’s really popular to say hold the line, hold the line,” she said. “But we have to pay our staff more, we have to pay our contractors more, we see that every time a tender comes in. It costs money to run this city, but I think if we do a good job and we spend a little more now and make it an attractive place to live, a lot of people that are coming to work here might actually stay and that should be our long-term goal.”
Johnson said he agreed with Ludwig that a half mill increase was enough provided the City was careful with how it spends taxpayer money.
“I would like to see us somehow claw our way out of debt so if some of this is used to pay down the debt, great,” he said. “But as soon as we get a dollar in our hand, we all want to see what we can do with it.”
While speaking to the media after Monday’s meeting, St. Onge said the decision was a tough one, but after years of small increases they needed to bite the bullet and raise taxes by a full point.
“There is so much work that needs to be done and they should get a lot done this year,” he said. “There may be an opportunity in the next couple of years to get a lot of work done. The list of work is endless and it all comes to how much money you need.
“I am concerned about the people on a fixed income, like myself. You always would rather not (raise taxes), but I do hear over and over again from people I deal with is they don’t have a big problem as long as they see work being done.”