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Banff budget talks begin

BANFF – A 2.76 tax increase for Banff residents and businesses for 2019 is the starting point – but that tax increase is about to get higher as local politicians consider requests for additional services and programs.
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Banff council is set to officially approve a 2019 operational budget in the new year. As of its final meeting in 2018, but proposed municipal property tax increase was at 5.44 per cent.

BANFF – A 2.76 tax increase for Banff residents and businesses for 2019 is the starting point – but that tax increase is about to get higher as local politicians consider requests for additional services and programs.

Council has begun wading through almost 50 requests for additional services, programs and projects for 2019 and beyond on top of what’s already in its draft operating and capital budgets.

Chris Hughes, the Town of Banff’s manager of finance, said that $275,000 is equal to a one percent overall tax increase, which includes the provincial education tax and Bow Valley Regional Housing levy.

“On an average monthly tax bill it would be a $4.79 increase and $57.52 per year for an average residential dwelling,” he said, noting an average residential dwelling is assessed at $399,000.

Mayor Karen Sorensen said she doesn’t known where individual councillors will land on the $41 million operating budget, but noted she’s not personally married to a percentage she may be comfortable with.

“In my early days, I went in saying ‘I’m not going higher than three per cent or five percent’, but I don’t think that way anymore,” she said.

“I’m more interested in what the value is and the impact is per household, either by month or over the course of the year. Is it a $50 a year impact or a $200 a year impact?”

Administration prepared a budget for council proving the same level of service for 1.9 per cent more. On top of that, there’s $192,000 in previously approved projects that bring the starting tax increase to 2.76 per cent.

Wages and benefits represent approximately 40 per cent of the Town’s annual operating budget. For 2018, that amounted to just shy of $16 million and adjustments this year would bring it closer to $17.2 million.

One of the big-ticket asks is a proposed new staff position to help the Town of Banff do a better job of keeping recycling and other waste out of the landfill as part of its commitment to be an environmental role model.

A cost of $225,000 would include $90,000 for a full-time position, $75,000 for collection, handling, and processing of increased recyclable materials and $60,000 for public education.

If approved, funding would continue with $225,000 in 2020, $190,000 each year from 2021-23 and $145,000 in the final year. As with other resource recovery expenses, this initiative would be funded 75 per cent by rates and 25 per cent by taxes.

There’s also a request to move ahead with realigning the Wolf and Lynx streets intersection, with a request for $50,000 in 2019 for detailed design and $1.5 million for construction in 2020.

A $5 million pedestrian bridge across the Bow River between Central Park and the rec grounds is also back on the discussion table, given there’s an opportunity to perhaps secure outside grant funding to help pay for it.