Much of the focus during budget time is on the tax increase. This is important, as it has an impact on every resident in the community. I am proud that this year we will bring in the lowest property tax increase in over a decade.
But there is much more to a City budget than the final tax number. In setting the budget, City Council needs to balance current and future needs, and invest in both core services and infrastructure as well as programs and amenities that improve the quality of life for residents.
A budget is the most important way a City Council can make strategic decisions about where to invest resources to position the city to be safe, vibrant, and successful for our growing and diverse population in a world that is changing rapidly.
The budget we passed on Wednesday contains a number of these key strategic elements that will help Saskatoon succeed for the year ahead and also for generations to come. Here is an overview of some of the key elements.
We have made significant progress in recent years fixing up aging roads, sidewalks, and waterlines that were falling into disrepair. The City has conducted a review of all of our infrastructure—everything from sewer mains to playgrounds to bridges—so now for the first time, we have a complete overview of where to strategically allocate funding that will maximize the life of our infrastructure and get the best results for residents. We have identified that there is a risk of falling behind with these key parts of our infrastructure if we don’t make smart investments now.
A few highlights about how this budget helps us to get the basics right:
Parks: Council provided additional base funding to park maintenance for play structures, walking paths, and general maintenance. This means that this funding will be built into budgets for future years, meaning that year over year we will see investment in this core area.
Sidewalks: Similar to funding for parks, Council voted in favour of core funding for sidewalk replacement and repair to fix safety and accessibility concerns with sidewalks. We also have a plan to install curb ramps where they don’t exist to help people with wheelchairs, walkers, or strollers.
Bridges: The ‘City of Bridges’ is taking steps to better maintain these vital assets that help to connect our city. Like parks and sidewalks, this is year-over-year funding.
Police and Community Safety: The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) will be adding new constables to the force, with a concerted emphasis on our core neighbourhoods. This will allow certain officers to specialize and will reduce strains on SPS throughout our community. At the same time, the SPS is adapting new technologies to become smarter in analyzing and responding to crime. It is also strengthening community partnerships with the Safe Community Action Alliance and the Restorative Action Program that will help address the root causes of crime and develop more integrated approaches to community safety.
Sustainability: The cost-benefit analysis from the City’s Low Emissions Community Plan made it clear that there are huge benefits to many of these projects, and there is a need to create a funding source. City Council set up a reserve fund to help kick-start this work. This budget also makes strategic investments in:
- City-wide solar strategy and large-scale solar development.
- Supporting a strategy to facilitate the expansion of electric vehicle infrastructure in the city.
- Developing a financing mechanism so residents can finance energy retrofits through savings on their utility bills and stimulate more jobs in the construction industry.
- Establishing high performance building standards to improve the efficiency of City buildings.
Organics: City Council made its first investment in operating a year-round, city-wide food and yard waste collection program. This also includes the purchase of green bins for households (paid for by federal government money).
Roads: Over $34M a year in both 2020 and 2021 was invested into the City’s road maintenance program. A map of work for 2020 and 2021 can be found online.
Quality of Life
These investments make Saskatoon a city with vibrancy, a city that’s fun to live in and with facilities and amenities for people of all ages to enjoy:
Strengthening the Downtown: We have a once in a generation opportunity to revitalize the downtown core, and we need to bring the right pieces together to make it happen. This budget makes important strategic investments to build on this opportunity. In addition to facilitating the next step for a Downtown Library, this budget invests in a Downtown stimulus strategy, revamping the City Centre Plan, the development of a business plan for a future Downtown Entertainment District, investments in safety, as well as decorative lighting and streetscaping.
Library: City Council approved a $67.5M loan to the Saskatoon Public Library for the construction of a new central library, $20M less than initially requested. This gives SPL the certainty they need to move forward on this vital project while balancing future capital expenses of the City.
Recreation: We made continued investments in important community projects to improve quality of life, such as Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, the Saskatoon Forestry Farm and Zoo, and the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
Zoning: The Zoning Bylaw is getting a complete overhaul to be more responsive to the needs of the City and more adapted to the modern world. This project involves a tremendous amount of community and stakeholder consultation, and it will help to guide Saskatoon’s development.
Trees: Due to pests infecting our trees, the City had to take down hundreds of ash trees in recent years. City Council moved forward with a more aggressive replacement program to help beautify our city.
Permits: City Council approved a revamp to commercial permits to move the process online, change internal processes, make the process more transparent, and reduce turnaround times by half.
Savings and Innovations
For a budget to be successful, it needs to be built on innovations and cost savings. This year we made some significant improvements with this to help stretch the value of tax dollars:
Growth: We made direct investments in the City’s Growth Plan, meaning that we can grow smarter and more sustainably. By being strategic about infill, we can take advantage of existing infrastructure and save millions of dollars.
Technology: The City is undergoing a transformation in technology by creating one integrated approach to managing information and data within City Hall called an Enterprise Resource Program. Right now we rely on outdated and fragmented software programs that are inefficient and inhibit our ability to provide better services to residents. The ERP will transform the way City Hall works and enable us to become more efficient and effective at responding to the demands of running a growing city.
Police: The Saskatoon Police Service is implementing the results of their operational review, and this involves transferring some work to civilian employees so sworn officers can be reassigned more efficiently.
Procurement: The new purchasing strategy for the City of Saskatoon is saving over $500K a year by being more efficient, and this number is expected to grow drastically as our ERP software system is implemented.
Fire: The Saskatoon Fire Department negotiated a new arrangement with the RM of Corman Park for the services we provide to them, meaning additional revenue for the Fire Department.
Waste: The City approved creating a waste reduction strategy for businesses and institutions. By diverting waste from the landfill, we can maximize the lifespan of this asset and ensure that it is not filled up with resources that could be used elsewhere.
Safety: The City and Police—along with many other community partners—are working on a strategy to address the crystal meth crisis in Saskatoon. By being more proactive, we can better support people and free up police resources to address other community needs.
PACE: The City moved forward to implement PACE financing, or “property-assessed clean energy financing.” This is a way for homeowners to fund energy efficiency improvements by paying for the costs of retrofits through additions to their property tax so they don’t need the money up front.