One of the most difficult things for even the most informed citizen to do is to keep track of municipal budgets that seem to blend together from one year to the next.
Advocate readers have been asking what the city plans to do with a $3 million dollar surplus created by the 2019 budget. Lower than expected spending, particularly on winter maintenance, created this windfall and since the announcement of this surplus there has been a lot of talk about how it should be allocated.
Many feel that the best use of this money is to assist the city in dealing with its $5 million shortfall in 2020, which was largely caused by the COVID pandemic.
Mayor Andy Letham, from the get-go, has rejected this idea, wanting to keep the nest egg available and unencumbered. The 2020 deficit has instead been paid down by a reduction of city staffing and services.
Council has also toyed with the idea of committing the $3 million to a pandemic recovery fund that could be used to assist local businesses and non-profits to re-open and move forward in 2021.
At the last committee of the whole meeting, Letham proposed something completely new for this money, which seemed to catch some councillors by surprise.
The mayor suggested that the money be returned to taxpayers as some kind of 2021 tax refund, with the hope of boosting local spending and assisting local businesses.
“We are in the position, without impacting our financial plan in the long run, of taking the surplus and rebating it back on their 2021 tax bills,” Letham said.
“The city and its residents have had a tough year with the pandemic and giving back the surplus seems like the responsible thing to do,” Letham said.
A rough estimate, not confirmed by city officials, and based on $3 million divided by 37,200 households in the city, would equal about $81 per household.
Councillor Doug Elmslie wondered if the money couldn’t be better used to fund essential city services considering how small the individual rebates might turn out to be.
“I know there’s going to be people thinking we can use this money to top up something or another,” Letham replied, “however, there will always be needs the city can put money towards.”
Council voted unanimously to support the mayor’s motion.
Staff will be tasked with coming up with a potential implementation plan, and much more discussion on this potential tax rebate is expected at the Oct. 20 council meeting.