ST. PAUL - The County of St. Paul is projecting a "modest" tax increase in order to balance its budget, according to Reeve Glen Ockerman.
Council approved its interim budget at a meeting held on Monday, Dec. 20. CAO Sheila Kitz says work was being done in order to approve the interim budget earlier in the month, but council requested additional time to talk about the budget, which must be passed before the end of the year.
While Ockerman was only elected a couple months ago as reeve, he has served on council previously, and says this year's interim budget was “By far this is the hardest budget I have ever participated in.”
The interim budget limits a number of capital items, and also focuses on reducing overtime, and a blanket freeze on salaries for all County employees.
Speaking to the need to reduce overtime, Ockerman says 2021 was a very productive year for County employees, and the move is not a reflection on the work being done, but rather a financial necessity. He gave kudos to the public works staff who worked hard throughout the past year.
“We think they do a great job.”
The freeze in salaries went "right from top to bottom," says Ockerman. This includes the CAO. Also, one of council's first decisions upon being elected in October was to rollback their own wages.
Kitz says coming up with this year's interim budget was "a difficult budget process."
"Council was looking at a significant deficit when all the wishes were added. In order to pass this preliminary budget most capital equipment has been removed, as well as some infrastructure projects," says Kitz.
She adds, "Council has committed to reviewing all services in the new year to determine process and potential cost savings."
In order to balance the budget, council is anticipating a "modest tax increase of less than five per cent for all properties," explains Kitz. "This increase in tax will offset the increase in the cost of policing, as well as the increased cost of recreation that the County committed to in the Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks with our municipal neighbours, which came in effect in 2020."
Ockerman says that while council will review all services, he hopes it does not translate into a reduction of services.
Ultimately, the budget can change once final numbers are known in the spring.
“We’ve prepared for the worst and we’re hoping for the best," says the reeve.
According to information presented to council, Operating and Capital Revenues are pegged at $33.4 million. Funding from reserves is also noted in the interim budget.
Operations Expenditures are pegged at over $28.2 million, and Capital Expenditures are budgeted at $6.9 million.
In the end, a small surplus of $1,493 is projected for the interim budget.
"I would like to thank council. Council worked very hard," says Ockerman, speaking to the budget process. He noted that councillors were only recently elected to their seats and undoubtedly want to make the municipality a better place, each coming to the table with their own specific wants.
Section 242(2) of the Municipal Government Act states that council may adopt an interim operating budget for part of a calendar year. As per Section 242(3), the interim operating budget will no longer have effect when the operating budget for the calendar year is adopted. The final budget will be approved in the spring.