It was a victory for the province’s cities that no changes were made to municipal revenue sharing in the 2017-18 budget.
But it was a short-lived victory, as another costly change was found.
The province is doing away with the grants that SaskPower and SaskEnergy pay cities in lieu of property taxes.
“It’s going to affect 13 cities across the province, but Saskatoon and Regina most significantly, the cities that have seen the most growth and absorbed the most new population, the most new job growth and it’s an immediate challenge we’re going to have to figure out,” Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said Wednesday.
Clark said that will potentially cost Saskatoon $10 or $11 million, which he said was equivalent to how much it costs to run all of the city’s recreational facilities.
“These are big chunks of our budget, major operations that we try to keep going that we now have to find the equivalent amount of money to deal with it and it’s a real challenge.”
Clark said he wasn’t prepared to say how the city would make up the shortfall.
“You can either raise taxes or cut programs in order to deal with this,” he suggested.
Clark said the municipal governments were blindsided by the news.
“The biggest frustration is that there was no sign of this, no warning,” he said. “We’ve been engaged with the government on all these different issues around the budget – revenue sharing, Meewasin, some of the other items we knew were a concern and this just came out of the blue and we have no time to prepare or plan.”
He also pointed to property taxes already increasing due to a hike in the education tax portion.
Clark said the change to grants in lieu is equivalent to losing 25 per cent in revenue sharing, or a 5.7 per cent property tax increase in Saskatoon alone.
“We’re going to be engaging with the minister, with the premier actually, and talk with him and say, ‘Look, there was no warning here, let’s talk about it further’ and see if there’s a chance to take a different look at it.”
Meewasin’s funding slashed
The Meewasin Valley Authority lost $409,000 from the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport.
Clark said that’s another conversation that’s not over.
“We’ve been fighting very hard for Meewasin and we’ll continue to do so,” he said. “Now we need to make sure with this cut we can keep Meewasin going.”
Clark added he’s concerned about potential job cuts to staff – and the quality of life in Saskatoon.
“We’re seeing more recreational opportunities and activities and Meewasin plays a crucial role in preserving the integrity of all that activity for generations to come.”