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No need for municipal tax hikes: Premier says after budget cuts
Premier Brad Wall speaks with members of the media following the 2017 budget speech at the Legislative Building in Regina Wednesday, March 22, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor
Jennifer Graham, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, April 10, 2017 3:28PM CST
Last Updated Tuesday, April 11, 2017 10:51AM CST
REGINA -- Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says municipal tax hikes aren't necessary and that cities or towns could dip into their reserves to cover their budget shortfalls.
"I would note that many of them have huge reserves," Wall said Monday during question period in the legislature.
"There is no need to for them to increase taxes, Mr. Speaker, as we work towards a new relationship with the municipal sector, informed by our record, which is record revenue sharing for the municipal sector in our province."
Urban municipalities say they're short about $36 million because the province cut grants-in-lieu -- money the government gave to cities instead of paying property tax on its buildings or infrastructure.
Funding for rinks, parks, and libraries was also cut in the provincial budget last month.
Finance Minister Kevin Doherty says the grants-in-lieu cuts are just three per cent of the provincial deficit of $1.3 billion.
"I don't think that that's unreasonable," Doherty told reporters Monday.
Doherty also pointed out that Regina has about $240 million in reserves, while Saskatoon has about $130 million.
"They have access to some funds. There's not a reason to raise property taxes this fiscal year, as we sit down and talk about future years, so they have those funds available to them," he said.
Saskatoon has said the cuts leave a $9 million hole in its budget this year. In Regina, it's about $11 million.
Both cities are looking at tax hikes to cover the shortfall.
Cities say reserve funds are earmarked for infrastructure projects in the future, not for daily operating costs.
But Doherty says the province is "not asking them to blow through their reserves."
The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association says it wants the government to engage in meaningful consultation with communities left reeling by the cuts.
The association is also taking issue with legislation introduced last week which would cancel all municipal services agreements and take away municipalities' right to legal action against the government.
It says that adds insult to injury.
SUMA vice-president of towns, Rodger Hayward, says almost 100 towns stand to lose their payments in lieu.
"As of today, a lot of small towns have not even heard from the government of what they are being cut and that is very concerning," Hayward said Monday.
"A lot of those towns either have their budgets passed or are working on it right now and still may not even know that they're cut back by $4,000, $5,000, $10,000, and that's concerning because we need that consultation. We need to know those things."
Hayward says introducing the bill was a clear sign to towns that the province is not interested in meaningful consultation with communities on the front lines of growth.
The city of Saskatoon has said it's considering legal action, including a court injunction, to stop the province from pulling the grants.
Government Relations Minister Donna Harpauer has said municipalities are still receiving more than $360 million in grants in lieu, municipal surcharge and revenue sharing.