Today Council passed a budget for the 2022 year. This was the first year in our 3-year budget cycle. You can read about the budget here: http://stjohns.ca/publications/2021-budget-book
Here is a combination of remarks I made during the meeting and some afterthoughts.
This budget is fiscally responsible while investing in climate action, social justice, and fiscal responsibility. A few highlights:
- $500,000 for the new Metrobus “ZIP” network, frequent transit service on Routes 1, 2, 3, and 10. This is phase 1 of the frequency upgrades proposed in the 2018/19 Operational Review of Metrobus which you can read about here: https://www.engagestjohns.ca/transit
- $510,000 for a third shift for to improve on the services offered already, basically getting the sidewalks we currently clear done faster and better. Preventing the freeze-thaw cycle from hindering operations will require faster more efficient clearing of the routes.
- approval of a new internal auditor position to strengthen our internal audit capabilities, a recommendation of the Audit Function Review process from 2018-19. More about that here: https://www.engagestjohns.ca/audit-function-review
- use of some surplus in paying down debt servicing costs
Our budget is 319M and change for 2022. This is up 2.4% from 2021. 57% of expenditures go towards core services. The mil rate is going up 0.6 for residential properties and 0.8 for commercial.
I was pleased to support a budget that is a middle ground between the views I hold, and those of the rest of Council. As lead of finance, Councillor Ellsworth did a tremendous job of squaring the circle, so to speak, on bringing together a diversity of viewpoints into one final budget product. Thank you.
Here is the text from the budget press release for more information:
December 13, 2021
Achieving Balance Key Theme for Budget 2022
Today, the City of St. John’s released the details of Budget 2022 which includes measures to address a projected $13M deficit without any reductions in service and targeted investments in key areas.
The City budget is balanced at $319,603,486.
“We appreciate that this has been a tough year for residents and business owners,” explained Ron Ellsworth, lead Councillor for Finance. “A key theme for Budget 2022 has been achieving balance. We want to meet the needs of the community without reducing any services while still addressing our fiscal responsibility through responsible budget planning.”
The City relies heavily on taxation as its primary source of revenue to offer the services citizens and property owners rely on, including good quality drinking water, safe roads, affordable public transit, sustainable waste collection, housing solutions and recreation, parks and trail networks.
In the 2021 reassessment of all properties in the City, assessed values have generally declined by 4.5 % for residential and 2.8 % for commercial, resulting in a $3M revenue shortfall. Further, expenditures are projected to increase by $10M in 2022, primarily due to mandatory payroll costs, debt repayments, increasing fleet maintenance costs and program and community commitments.
Council has also approved the use of $11.6M in surplus from previous years to pay down on debt, which will improve future abilities to balance the budget.
For 2022, Council has approved a .6 mill increase for residential properties and a .8 mill increase for commercial properties. Despite the change in the mill rate, a large percentage of property owners will see no increase in their taxes or a small increase over taxes in 2021. In fact, 81% of residential property owners will experience an increase of $10 or less per month in their annual taxes; and 79% of commercial property owners will see a 5% or less increase in annual taxes.
Water taxes will increase $5 per unit, from $620 in 2021 to $625 for 2022. This increase is required to fund current water operations, and all revenue from this tax goes directly to providing water service.
“As part of the online budget engagement process, 51% of participants indicated they could tolerate an increase in taxes to ensure current service levels were maintained,” said Councillor Ellsworth. “While we appreciate that property tax is unique to each individual, Council made every effort to ensure that the burden was minimized to the greatest extent possible.”
Investing in a Strong Municipality Through the budget engagement process, the public expressed a feeling that Council should be focused on achieving its strategic priorities and considering the future; there is a strong desire for us to build a welcoming and inclusive city for all.
To that end, Council will continue to focus on its strategic priorities and to work aggressively to find ways to operate more efficiently through continuous improvement initiatives. Council is committed to keeping human resources costs under control and to focusing on stability through partnerships with community and government organizations.
“Our plan for 2022 is to maintain levels of service and make small investments that will enhance the services that matter most to you, like snow clearing and public transit, and support our commitments to bolstering the economy and being a sustainable organization,” said Councillor Ellsworth.
In response to public concerns about sidewalk snow clearing, Council has funded a third shift in sidewalk snowing clearing. This $510,000 investment will allow for a faster completion of the existing sidewalk routes.
Council has also approved an investment to improve the frequency of high demand Metrobus routes. The new ZIP Network service, beginning January 3, 2022, will see increased and consistent frequency throughout the day on key routes.
The Pedestrian Mall has been funded for 2022. What started as a way to help businesses in 2019 has become a staple of the City’s summer season and will be improved for the upcoming Come Home Year celebrations.
Planning is underway for the 2025 Canada Summer Games. As the country’s marquee multi-sport event for amateur sport, the Canada Games attracts thousands of athletes resulting in an economic impact exceeding $77M and a legacy of new and improved sport and community facilities that provide long-term benefits for sport, health and wellness. Our Canada Games commitment for 2022 is $445,000.
Across the organization, staffing is up 6.27 positions; 3.66 positions directly relate to the investment in the third shift for sidewalk snow clearing while the balance represent increased operations in the Visitor Welcome Centre, an internal auditor position to further investment in best practices for good corporate governance and a marketing officer primarily to support economic development opportunities.
“Council will continue to listen to feedback from the public on our performance and how effectively we are meeting your priorities,” said Mayor Danny Breen. “Our focus for 2022 is to operate efficiently, be responsible stewards of your tax dollar and provide the best quality services and programs for the citizens of St. John’s.”
The Budget Book can be read here: http://www.stjohns.ca/sites/default/files/CSJ_FileUpload/Communications/2022%20Budget%20Book.pdf