Understanding your taxes 1% at a time.
As anyone who pours a stiff drink for themselves every spring can attest, taxes are the bane of our existence. But for a growing city like Airdrie, they are a necessary evil as they help keep the roads maintained, the amenities operating and the grass mowed.
According to the 2016 budget, the City of Airdrie spends just under $120 million annually, and deciding where that goes is a game of “balancing community needs,” says Lucy Wiwcharuk, director of Corporate Services.
Unless you win Lotto Max (twice), $120 million may be hard to fathom, and the City’s three per cent property tax increase for 2016 might also not mean a lot by itself, so Wiwcharuk helps put this into perspective.
“Based on the 2016 budget, one per cent is $455,000,” she says, which translates to $1.33 per household per month (or $3.99 for the full three per cent, just under $48 per year).
So what does one per cent of tax dollars get you?
“The main pressure in our budget is around safety,” says Wiwcharuk. For example, she says, the City is responsible for paying most of the cost for the RCMP officers who service Airdrie and surrounding area. The overall 2016 budget added funding for eight additional officers; an extra one per cent would pay for three more RCMP members, she says.
“It’s always a balancing act … between must-haves we’re conscious about, like safety and security, [and] maintaining roads and [keeping up] recreation facilities and parks”
An extra per cent would also help shore up the City’s new tax stabilization reserve. “In 2016, council made a conscious decision to take half a per cent of the tax increase and start a tax stabilization reserve,” Wiwcharuk says, adding that the money saved in that bank, over time, could be used to deal with future funding pressures such as, for example, the need for another fire hall in the northeast, which would entail $3.5 million in additional operating costs and the addition of 20 firefighters. “The goal is to try and gradually increase [the reserve],” she says.
The tax increase for 2016 also has to help to deal with maintaining some 35 acres of new parkland space, which may involve such costs as fertilizer and additional machinery, Wiwcharuk says.
One per cent also more than covers the $250,000 the City has put into a reserve as it builds a “snow plan” to deal with unexpected extreme weather events, says Wiwcharuk. Although we got off lucky this past winter, Snowtember 2014 reminded us that Mother Nature doesn’t always look at the calendar.
“We try to be conscious about … balancing community needs,” Wiwcharuk says. “Where do people want these additional services? It’s always a balancing act … between must-haves we’re conscious about, like safety and security, [and] maintaining roads and [keeping up] recreation facilities and parks. And some things didn’t make the cut this year, like doing more beautification to downtown.”
To help Airdrie residents get a deeper understanding of municipal budgeting and where their tax dollars go, last year the City launched Look Closer, an online information campaign featuring a series of infographics and some videos related to the 2015 budget, with such details as how many fire hydrants in 2014 needed to be repaired (312) or undergo routine maintenance (1,558); the estimated 2015 operating cost recovery for Genesis Place (85 per cent); and even how many tonnes of newspaper, cardboard and mixed paper were recycled in 2014 (427, 818 and 316, respectively).
With the 2016 budget now in the books, Wiwcharuk says, planning for 2017 is already underway, with some citizen engagement in the budget process expected around mid-year and council budget deliberations in the fall.
For more information about property taxes, and the Look Closer information campaign, visit airdrie.ca