MONCTON – City Manager Marc Landry and Acting Chief Finacial Officer Gregg Houser presented a budget to the city council Monday, including nearly $302.3 million in capital expenditures. With an increased assessment base and higher own-source revenue, no tax raise is planned for next year.
“I think the main thing is we’ll present a balanced budget on the operating side, a balanced budget…maintain the [tax] rate of $1.6497, so that means no rate increases for taxpayers,” Houser said. “Assessment goes up, so there might be small increases that way, but overall we’re holding the budget on that rate.”
Houser and Landry’s budget estimated a 1.25 per cent increase in the assessment base, which is the total value of all the properties across the city. This means the city will get 1.25 per cent more revenue from property taxes without having to raise rates.
However, it’s the province that provides this assessment and the final number is not yet known. Therefore, after budget deliberations Wednesday through Friday, the city council can give an approval-in-principle. A final approval can be given after the province provides the assessment figure. Houser expects to get that in the “very near future.”
However, the fact that the assessment growth is only 1.25 per cent is also a challenge, Houser said.
“When you get wages that are averaging maybe increases of somewhere between 1.5- and 2-per-cent – just normal inflation, and we’re getting an assessment base increase that provide your revenue of 1.25 per cent,” he said. “So, we have to look at areas to hold costs or even reduce costs to be more efficient, and where are the areas that we can actually grow and manage the budget. So really it’s a balancing act between service levels and maintaining excellent services for citizens without increasing cost.”
On the other hand, the city’s “own-source” revenue, which comes from items outside property taxes and equalization grants, increased by $934,139.
“Part of it is we’ve got revenues coming from the Avenir Centre. So, part of the arrangement we have is a guarantee fee from them. There’s also ticket fees and other things we get,” Houser said.
There is an increase to bus fares also planned – around 25 cents, Houser said. But that has to be approved by council first. There had also been increases in building permit volumes.
“People pay for permits. The rate is not going up but we’re getting more growth in the city, with commercial especially,” Houser said.
The five-year capital budget, from 2019 to 2023, will include projects such as the community centre in the north end, a replacement of old buses using funding from the federal infrastructure monies, a reconstruction of Lutz St., and the installation of artificial turf at the CN Sportsplex soccer field ahead of the Jeux de la Francophonie, among other things.
However, turbulent provincial politics could pose risks to municipalities in New Brunswick, including Moncton.
“In the long term, I think as the city manager commented, what happens is the province only has so many dollars to go around. So if there’s higher pressure on, whether that be healthcare or requirements for the housing, things like that, monies may go there, thereby less money will be going to the cities whether that be through equalization funding or other areas they normally would support. Now they’ll potentially download to us,” he said. “That’s the risk we run. So we continue to have that conversation with the province on what the future would hold.”
Right now, only eight per cent of taxes goes to municipalities, while 49 per cent goes to the federal government and 43 per cent to the provincial level.
Budget deliberations will take place from Wednesday to Friday in council chambers. The sessions will be open to the public.