Clark delivers first state of the city address
Mayor Charlie Clark’s first state of the city address Tuesday came amid what the mayor himself has called a “fiscal crisis” for Saskatoon.
Clark issued his 2017 address just after noon at a luncheon hosted by the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce. The speech was mixed with optimism and financial uncertainty.
“We can position Saskatoon as a successful and resilient 21st-century city that is ready to help carry this province into the future,” he told the crowd before pointing to the recent provincial budget.
Saskatchewan’s budget, tabled last month, left Saskatoon in a $9-million hole, according to city officials.
The shortfall was created by a cut to the province’s grants-in-lieu of taxes program for SaskEnergy and SaskPower, plus a one per cent PST increase, the city says. The cut affected numerous urban municipalities, which together say they’re short about $36 million.
Clark, who said on March 22 the grants-in-lieu cut “creates an immediate fiscal crisis for the city,” pointed to the shortage in his address.
He said he and councillors worked on recommendations to cover the shortfall at a governance and priorities meeting Monday.
Councillors voted in favour of deferring the snow and ice levy, freezing city staff wages except those in the public library, increasing the price of parking tickets to $30 from $20, increasing the return on investment from water utilities, and raising property taxes by about one per cent.
“I think we’ve succeeded in finding a balance and a mix of solutions,” Clark said, noting budgeting for next year may still be difficult.
“We know that the work is not over. The 2018 budget will also be a challenge.”
An initial estimate after the provincial budget pegged Saskatoon’s shortfall at about $11.4 million, but the number was later adjusted to $9 million.
Premier Brad Wall said Monday cities and towns can use reserves to cover budget shortfalls, but Saskatoon councillors voted Monday to not dip into reserve funds.
The city’s reserve is about $140 million, with $21 million of that used each year to cover capital and operating budgets. City officials said Monday the reserve would deplete in seven years if used as the sole method to deal with the provincial budget shortfall.
Recommendations proposed at Monday’s governance and priorities meeting are not yet final. The suggestions must be approved by city council on April 24.
--- with files from Laura Woodward, Angelina Irinici and The Canadian Press