July 17th, 2024

Councillors to consider several additions to proposed 2025-26 budget

By Collin Gallant on July 9, 2024.

News File Photo Today councillors will be meeting to discuss capital and operating additions proposed in the 2025-26 city budget.

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City council members will have a chance today to dig into a list of capital and operating additions in the proposed 2025-26 Medicine Hat city budget.

That could include reconsideration of projects left off a list presented late last month, though administrators outlined in late June that any additions to the list would have to be matched by deletions or more money would be required either in tax revenue or reserve cash.

Those unbudgetted items include a continuation municipal grant to HALO regional air rescue society, low income utility subsidies, some intersection improvements and some “growth” oriented infrastructure work.

As it is, 55 projects meant to support “growth” in city services expansion – such as general utility additions, campground improvements, special transit upgrades and development subsidies – would add to tax and utilities rates.

The recommended list totals $36.4 million in capital construction and $10.3 million in operational spending, mostly one-time in nature.

That doesn’t yet include recreation facilities plan that could top $50 million and would be seen as a special project debated in the fall.

“Regardless of ‘facilities for the future’, there are other needs in the community and the need for growth in other areas, infrastructure needs,” said budget author Aaron Hoimyr in June.

“We’re trying to establish an appropriate baseline – on a go forward basis the city is required to continue to provide for status quo service, but also a portfolio for growth into the future.”

Under a new process this year, council is gathering in a half dozen committee of the whole meetings before the final budget is approved late this year, where council will debate a staff proposal to balance the operating budget in 2026.

Coun. Robert Dumanowski questioned how initial budget meetings in the winter laid out a target of 4.9 per cent tax increase,

“It seems counterintuitive that by increasing our spending and closing the gap,” he told council on June 25.

“There’s been blood and sweat put into this, and we need to be persuaded.”

“My interpretation is there are a number of items here that fit into the middle area.”

Other councillors said they are focusing on the tax requirement.

“We’re in a culture and community that is watching everything we do and is very concerned about (spending) in everything, utilities, taxes,” said Coun. Cassi Hider. “This could not go well.”

Hoimyr said the difference between 2025 and 2026 is that many projects are one-time items, and don’t add to long-term budget growth.

Recommended projects range from relatively minor – $125,000 in trail maintenance – to large utility projects.

On/off the list

The largest item on the recommended list is a new facility to process compost at the city landfill, at a cost of $9.5 million.

As well, $6.5 million for twinning of aging water line that supplies about 30 per cent of city households, the $5-million next phase of sewer extension to Brier Park, would be paid by higher utility bills.

Municipal projects would add 0.2 per cent to expected tax increase, bringing it to 5.1 per cent even as the city plans to put more reserve cash to offset municipal tax increases next year before balancing the budget, now expected after 2026.

Not included in the recommended list is $2.5 million to rebuild irrigation system and landscaping at a key highway intersection at Highway’s 1 and 3. That has been the source of public grumbling as trees and vegetation dwindle after city-owned irrigation lines broke several years ago. Administrators say that since Alberta Transportation (which owns the land) doesn’t yet have a final outlook for upgrades, investment would be ill-advised.

Alongside HALO, which administrators say should be fully funded as a provincial service, budget documents stated that 25 other proposed partnerships and potential grants involve $12.6 million in capital spending, are also not recommended.

Recurring recommended police funding of about $300,000 per year to operate the downtown patrol year round, but a new media relations officer for the department was nixed. As well the police would add another school resource officer with a $76,000 salary.

Axing the Fair Entry utility subsidy of up to $1,300 per year for qualified low-income since 2023 would save $1.5 million per year, though subsidized bus passes and rec and cultural facility entry would remain.

Also left off were two $1 million intersection upgrades at Gershaw Drive-Fourth St., and Rotary Drive-20th St. N.W., $2 million to install solar panel arrays on four large-roof city facilities, and up to $3 million to proactively upgrade water and power service connections to existing neighbourhoods in hopes of jump-starting infill development.

Not included are a museum revitalization ($250,000), commissioning a new snow dump, cash for transit and waste-water masterplans, studies of on-street parking, the potential for a regional emergency first responders training hub; update the municipal works construction standards manual, in-depth planning for major route reconstruction ($500,000).

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