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Airdrie's budget committee recommends 4.97 per cent tax increase

“I know no one wants to pay more, but at the end of the day, we’re subjected to the same challenges that everyone else is,” Brown said.
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Airdrie City council's budget committee has agreed to a $187.5 million operating budget and $48 million in capital costs for 2023. File photo/Airdrie City View

Airdrie homeowners can expect to pay a little below five per cent more for their property tax bills next year. 

After two days of budget deliberations last week, the City of Airdrie's council budget committee (CBC) finally came to an agreement on the municipality's 2023 operating and capital budgets. 

According to Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown – who also chairs the council budget committee – the 2023 budget that CBC eventually agreed to includes $187.5 million in operating expenses, and just under $48 million in capital costs. The CBC members voted 5-2 in favour of the budget, with Brown and Coun. Heather Spearman the two in opposition.

The budget will have to be ratified by Airdrie city council, whose next meeting is on Dec. 5. 

The agreed-upon budget means Airdrie homeowners with an average assessed property value of roughly $420,000 would pay about $27 more on their monthly property bills next year, equating to an approximately five per cent tax increase. The City's 2022 budget was for $159 million in operating expenses – a 0.02 per cent increase from the year before – and $17.11 million in capital expenses.

“I think it’s a significant amount,” Brown said of next year's increase. “But we’re facing the same challenges as everyone else when it comes to the cost of doing business in 2023.”

Like other municipalities, Brown noted the City of Airdrie is facing high inflationary pressures this year, as the cost of living has seen 30-year-high increases in 2022. The Town of Cochrane and Rocky View County have also suggested tax increases in the four to six per cent range to account for inflation this year. 

Brown said like households and businesses, municipal governments are also subjected to inflationary challenges, and by provincial law are required to pass balanced budgets. 

The mayor recounted that nearly everything the City spends money on is more expensive now than it used to be, from fuelling City-owned vehicles to paying for construction materials. Using a fire engine as an anecdotal example, he said when he first joined City council, a new fire engine cost approximately $700,000, but now, a new fire truck is worth over twice that amount.

“Even salt and dirt and rock – everything has gone up significantly,” he said. “Concrete has gone up enormously, steel has gone up enormously, trucks [too].”

What most concerns Brown at the moment is what Airdrie's capital budgets will look like in the years to come, as the municipality prepares for a slate of large-scale capital projects. The City is already committed to building a new library and multi-use facility – which faced rising costs this year – and is hoping to build a new recreational centre on the west side of Airdrie, as well as a fourth fire hall, and is developing a new regional park in the northeast. 

“The numbers they’re forecasting are huge. Way more than we forecasted a few years ago,” Brown warned. “Not just this year but in future years, when you look at some of the infrastructure we need to build – rec centres, fire halls, etc. – the numbers we’re seeing post-COVID are unbelievably high.

“We’re hoping it will come down, but for me through this process, that’s the hardest part: recognizing these costs that are being put aside for some significant investments we have to make in water, sewer, roads, maintenance, bridges, etc.”

Brown said some of the other big-ticket items coming down the pipe for city hall include an expanded snow storage facility, a south regional lift station, water force main construction, land acquisition for a waste and recycling facility, public works yard redevelopment, and the installation of additional parking at Chinook Winds Regional Park. 

“We’ve got sewer collection rehab, we’ve got road projects, we’ve got the regional park – a plan to open that up so there will be pathways in the initial stages of that park being designed,” he said. “We’ve got Ron Ebbesen [Arena improvements], a Midlife Recycling project – all these things going on in the future.”

According to the mayor, council and staff were relatively amicable during last week's two marathon budget deliberation sessions. He said there is always a lot of questioning at this time of year, when department heads from the municipality present their dollars and cents to the budget committee. 

During this year's deliberations, Brown said the request that was most scrutinized by councillors – and eventually reduced – was the City's request to add hires for 28.5 full-time equivalent staffing positions. 

“[Administration] reduced it from 38 to manage what we’re doing currently and other initiatives we need greater capacity for it,” he noted. “They did decrease it, but there was a lot of vetting on the different personnel. That was probably where most questions came from.

“Within every department, there was good dialogue between council and administration.”

With a new chief administrative officer (CAO) at the helm of the City of Airdrie this year, Brown said it was the first time Horacio Galanti went through the budget deliberation process for the municipality.

While Brown acknowledges residents will likely be frustrated by the property tax increase this year, he said he's confident that staff and council have put together a budget that suits a majority of residents.

“I know no one wants to pay more, but at the end of the day, we’re subjected to the same challenges that everyone else is,” he said.

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