There will be no tax increase for Selkirk residents in the 2023 budget but the journey to get to zero in the face of high inflation and a years-long provincial funding freeze was challenging.
“It was maybe the toughest budget year I’ve ever been through,” says Mayor Larry Johannson.
“City administration has put in a lot of work and council was faced with some of the most difficult decisions we’ve seen in years. It’s a balancing act, like it is every year, but even more so this time with inflation being what it is. I’m proud of the work that went into this budget, and really, I’m proud of all the good work that’s been done over the years that made Selkirk strong enough to deliver this budget.”
With no increase, $100,000 of assessed home value will result in $1,025.82 in municipal taxes – the same amount as last year.
Duane Nicol, Selkirk’s CAO, says that number represents the city’s portion – school taxes, both local and provincial, appear on your city tax bill as well, though the city has no input or control over those numbers.
“While the city has frozen taxes in 2023, what people see on their actual tax bill is made up of a few things, including the school division taxes as well as the provincial education taxes,” Nicol said.
“In 2023 the provincial government will be taking away some of the education tax credit they have provided in the past so that will increase everyone’s property tax bills – but they will see that money come back in the form of a grant paid directly to property owners by cheque. The tax bill is also significantly impacted by the assessed value of your home.”
Nicol acknowledged the difficulty of delivering a pocketbook-friendly budget when the rate of inflation is higher than it has been in decades. Still, council was cognizant of the impact of inflation on citizens and worked hard to hold the line on taxes.
Non-discretionary spending is up – it’s up for the average citizen and it’s up for the City of Selkirk which puts pressure on city services. Fuel prices are up, Manitoba Hydro costs are higher – with natural gas up more than 11% and electricity about 3.4% – and solid waste costs have increased by around 8% as well.
“There have been some dramatic increases in operation costs for the city and they’re costs that the city has no control over,” Nicol said.
“The city’s management team has been tasked with finding ways to reduce costs. We can’t not pay Manitoba Hydro, that’s not a choice, but we’ve looked at ways we can cut back and try to do it in the least invasive way.”
The city’s growth in recent years aided in being able to keep taxes at last year’s level.
“Holding taxes isn’t a long-term strategy as it means impacts to services and infrastructure. As the costs of things rises, holding taxes means you have less capacity to keep up with maintenance and less dollars to spend providing services,” Nicol said.
“Since 2004 the Manitoba cost of living (CPI) has increased at an average annual rate of 2.3% while the municipal tax rate, or mill rate, has actually gone down by an average annual rate of 1.6%. This has been possible because of the growth we’ve seen in Selkirk.”
Planning for progress and growth
The city has budgeted $50,000 to update its community strategic plan. First implemented in 2014, it has served as the city’s guiding document for all decisions and it’s important that it remains current and relevant.
“While this is a very tight budget, we still expect to move forward in achieving the city’s strategic objectives,” Nicol said.
“More than any budget in the last 10 years, this one has been difficult because of the inflation we’re seeing. But we’ve worked hard to deliver on progress while trying to keep things affordable for citizens.”
The city will spend $25,000 for detailed planning for Phase 1 of the west end development lands. The city purchased 326.5 acres of land for $3.2 million in 2019, putting itself in the driver’s seat for Selkirk’s sustainable future.
The land, located south of Walmart to Strathnaver Avenue and from Hwy. 9 to the railway tracks, will facilitate the next 30 to 50 years of growth in the city, as it is a continuous parcel of developable land connected to the city’s infrastructure. Carefully planning and then opening new lands for development will be critical to maintain the growth the city has seen over the past few years.
Several park management plans will be done this year, including plans for the new Woodlands neighbourhood park and the new west end regional park, which is part of the west end concept plan. The multi-use recreational facility concept plan and feasibility study will be completed this year.
Infrastructure renewal & improvement
Selkirk will invest $1.5 million Into the 300 and 400 blocks of Sutherland Avenue with new street surface, sidewalks, water mains, sewer and storm sewer, furthering the city’s separation of combined sewer. Both blocks were identified through the Capital Asset Management Program (CAMP) as requiring watermain and sewer renewal/liners to extend service life and reduce the risk of watermain breaks. This project will also see the separation of the combined sewer line on these two blocks which eliminates sewer back up during heavy rain events for the homes and adds capacity to the city’s storm water system. The 200 block of Sutherland will have its sewer lined as well.
Purvis Boulevard will also see street renewal between Belanger Place and Bell Bay which will be cost shared with developers operating in the area. Main Street, north of Manitoba Avenue, will be resurfaced by the Province of Manitoba. The City of Selkirk will improve the boulevards, medians, and crossings at the same time, which is a cost-effective move.
The city will continue to improve and expand its Active Transportation network this year. An investment of $140,000 into the new Eveline Street multi-use AT trail will extend it and allow those on foot or on bike to safely get from the entrance of Selkirk Park to the dog park. Also, $50,000 will be spent on a new accessible AT pathway from Eveline Street to the Waterfront, allowing those with mobility issues safer access to one of Selkirk’s finest attractions. Detailed design for the pathway was included in the Eveline Street Reconstruction project.
The city’s Strategic Plan makes safety a priority. In 2023 the city, with the support of the provincial government, will begin creating a community safety strategy and will establish a new Community Safety Officer position. The Community Safety Officer makes use of changes to provincial legislation providing trained municipal officers with greater authority to enforce some provincial statutes. The new authorities are being successfully used in other municipalities and helping to reduce demand on RCMP resources while providing additional capacity for enforcement of by-laws.
Selkirk, like every other city in the world, faces increased threat of digital attacks. This year’s budget includes $28,700 for DarkTrace Data and Loss Prevention software that uses Artificial Intelligence to protect computer files and reduce the chance of a cyber-attack. Municipalities in Manitoba have been hit with so called ransom ware and other attacks that have been very costly to local taxpayers. These new tools add additional protection to data as well as computer controlled systems like the city’s water and sewer treatment systems.
A pumper truck will be replaced in the Selkirk Fire Department fleet, the Public Works Department will replace a front-end loader and a Selkirk Mobility bus will be replaced by a smaller vehicle that will reduce operating costs and improve service.
Climate change adaptation
The city’s Street Tree Policy provides guidance and makes trees part of Selkirk’s critical municipal infrastructure. This year, the city will continue to expand its urban canopy and plant even more street trees. An investing in Canada Infrastructure grant, applied for and received in 2019, continues to fund the city’s investment in street trees. The trees planted this year will be larger so benefits – including shade for pedestrians, reduced need for air conditioning in nearby buildings and retention and management of stormwater – can be realized sooner.
Summer staff dedicated to tree maintenance, care and upkeep will also be expanded.
In May 2019, Selkirk won the Canadian Network of Asset Managers’ prestigious Tereo Award for leadership and innovation in Asset Management for its Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.
In 2023, the city has budgeted $50,000 to continue to work towards resiliency by developing a stormwater/land drainage masterplan using climate change data that will enable the city to better address the more intense and frequent storm events we have already seen and expect to see in the future.