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'Only one taxpayer': Saskatoon councillors weigh implications of property tax hike

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City councillor Troy Davies is looking back at last week's City of Saskatoon budget deliberations as a missed opportunity.

Councillors spent nearly 30 hours finalizing a multi-year budget over four days last week, ultimately landing on property tax increases of 6.04 per cent in 2024 and 5.64 per cent in 2025, and Davies feels there was a lot more that could have been cut.

"I took it pretty seriously that anything over 4 per cent was unacceptable," the Ward 4 councillor said Monday.

"There's only one taxpayer with one wallet and if we keep pushing it back on them, people are gonna be struggling — and they already are struggling."

After many cost-saving measures were defeated in 6-5 votes, Davies said the final budget before next year's municipal election could become an issue for voters next fall after he was on the losing end 63 times of 92 attempts to lower spending.

Ward 2 Coun. Hilary Gough said elections aren't on her mind during budget deliberations, and Saskatoon's budget couldn't sacrifice its future by slashing too much money now.

"I think the focus really was on striking the right balance and I don't know that anybody knows what the perfect balance here is," she said.

"But also making sure that we don't leave the city in a financial position that it's going to be hard to recover."

On Friday, Mayor Charlie Clark refused to reveal if he will seek re-election in 2024 or not, but he said come election time, property taxes are rarely the top issue on voters' minds.

"It's one factor among many that people, when you get around to an election, people are making their decisions on," Clark said.

"On the whole ... people recognize that council is under pressure and people recognize that we're in a growing city that has a lot going for it right now."

Davies feels 2024 will be different, as affordability will continue to dominate discussions next year.

"All of us are accountable to the residents we represent. So it'll be up to residents to decide if we listened to them," Davies said.

Clark rejected the notion that city council was divided, and instead focused on how since his election in 2016, council has voted in tax increases that were one per cent lower than the previous city leadership.

Saskatoon business association NSBA’s executive director Keith Moen felt the city strayed too far away from core services and overfunded plenty of business lines.

"It's coming out of our pockets that's paying for these programs and services, if we don't value them, then why are they doing it?" he said.

Davies is looking to the future with added concern. Under the new rate, the average homeowner would pay about $10.47 more per month in taxes — based on a property value of $344,000.

But residents will also be paying hundreds of dollars more for increases to utilities. Wastewater rates are increasing in 2024, and residents will be given an entirely new bill for garbage as a utility, which up until now was funded through property taxes.

Depending on the cart size a home chooses, residents will be paying $28.98 to $70.97 more for just garbage next year. Wastewater increases are expected to cost more than $5 for the average resident.

"Right now, I would classify the finances of a lot of people in my ward as unstable," Davies said. "And that's what concerns me and I know it concerns a lot of people I represent." 

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