LETHBRIDGE: City council is trying to stick to its budget diet. Early estimates show the property tax increase for the average homeowner could be as low as $135 and as high as 11 per cent or $200 total over the next three years.
At issue now is a list of new projects. If council approves them, the budget will increase - and so will the strain on taxpayers' pockets. But aldermen have been trying to keep that stress minimal. For one, they directed staff to trim the base budget to a number that's noticeably smaller than councils started with in previous years. That base has now been cut to 2.5 per cent per year from 2012 to 2014, or 7.5 per cent total. The percentage translates to an average of about $135 in tax increases over those three years.
The new projects list, and how much council decides to spend on them, can potentially push that tax increase number higher - depending on the decisions they make in coming weeks. A presentation from staff Monday revealed the maximum "add-on" that could come out of that list is 1.2 per cent - or an extra $65 over the three years. Most of the new initiatives on the list come from Economic Development Lethbridge, the Lethbridge Regional Police and the City's Public Library system.
No matter what decision council makes on these projects, the upcoming round of property tax hikes comparatively low. Even at the highest estimate - the 11 per cent increase over three years - the 2012 to 2014 cycle will clock the lowest tax increase since 2001. For example, during the last budget cycle from 2009 to 2011, taxes increased a total of about 14.6 per cent. Before that, during the 2006 to 2008 budget cycle, taxes increased a total of 22.4 per cent. Council is inviting public feedback on the upcoming budget from now until the final vote November 28.