The City of Selkirk’s tag line says it’s a place where it all comes together and looking at the 2024 budget and the process used to arrive at it, the tag line nails it.
At a time when other cities are proposing increases between 10 and 15 per cent, the work of council and administration over recent years came together quite nicely and allowed them to deliver a budget that has a minimal increase, no cuts to services and a backing story that shows how strategic planning has had a positive result for Selkirk.
Mayor Larry Johannson says it’s no coincidence that strategy and planning are the driving forces behind a budget that delivers on so many fronts.
“Budget time always requires your full attention and often the need for difficult decisions, but when you actually see the work that’s been put in by all city departments, to improve infrastructure, to improve our internal processes and to make our city the best it can be, the job of doing the budget is less work and more realization of our successes,” Johannson said.
“We have our Community Strategic Plan and we commit to it. Our efforts in Capital Asset Management are paying off big time, our Climate Change strategies are paying off and you can see the results all over the city. Others see it too and are investing in our city, which is another big reason we’re able to accomplish as much as we do. I congratulate council and staff on a job well done.”
Growth keeping Selkirk affordable
CAO Duane Nicol says ratepayers in Selkirk aren’t facing large tax increases that those in other municipalities are, and one of the reasons is Selkirk’s growth. Brandon’s taxes for example, are proposed to rise by double digits.
Back in 2019 the city made a strategic move and purchased 326.5 acres of land in the west end so that it could, as the Community Strategic Plan calls for, take firmer control of its economic destiny. The land will be developed over the coming decades with a mixture of commercial and residential and include the city’s second regional park. We saw that start to take shape in 2023 with 350 new residential units being started or completed during the year, several of them in the west end.
“Selkirk’s growth in its tax base has played a huge role in helping shield citizens from the sorts of inflation-driven tax increases other municipalities are facing, and at the same time council is able to make strategic investments into renewing our infrastructure, strengthening municipal services and making the city more resilient to climate change,” Nicol said.
“We’re really building on success with this 2024 budget, we’ve made strategic investments and we will continue to do so, but we’re starting to see results and we’re at the stage where we build off those successes.”
The city’s Strategic Plan, which was approved in 2014 and has been Selkirk’s North Star ever since, guides all city decisions, and will be updated this year. There will be community consultations and the plan will be refreshed and built upon to reflect Selkirk as it moves forward.
This year’s budget has 79 tactics in it, and each is tied to the Strategic Plan and fits into one of five categories: a vibrant, safe and healthy community, a strong and stable local economy, safe and sustainable infrastructure, maximum value from community resources and environmental stewardship.
Evolving for Growth
The growth Selkirk experienced in 2023 is expected to continue and the city has been and will continue to prepare for that growth. Development in the west end, both residential, commercial and industrial will ramp up in the coming years, and Selkirk is making strategic investments so it will be ready.
In 2024, the city will complete its transit strategy to develop Transit 2.0 to take the service into the next decade and beyond.
Master plans for water and wastewater will be upgraded this year as well. The city has invested $50 million into water and wastewater in the past seven years, including its new state-of-the-art Wastewater Treatment Plant and installation of geothermal heating and cooling at its water treatment plant.
“From a GHG perspective, the water treatment plant was the second largest point source of emissions in the city, with the old wastewater treatment plant being the largest contributor. The new state-of-the-art wastewater plant is fossil fuel free in its operations and now uses heat pumps and electricity to heat and cool the entire building, while the water treatment plant uses geo-thermal,” Nicol said.
This year, a membrane system will be designed for future installation at the water treatment plant to eliminate the use of lime to soften city water. It will be a cost and environmental savings for the city, which currently spends more than $400,000 per year to purchase lime to soften water and about the same amount to truck the used lime away to an acceptable landfill.
“We’ll be reducing the operation costs of the facility and reducing the amount of waste,” Nicol said.
Selkirk made the bold move of bringing planning and building permitting in-house in 2022, and after a year in operation, the division is growing and succeeding. This year, Selkirk will begin work on its own development plan, something it hasn’t done in more than 50 years. The plan is a blueprint for long-term land use in the city, designating lands for future development, types of uses and sets targets for environmental protection and density.
For the first time, a comprehensive land drainage improvement study and stormwater management plan will be developed, and it ensures the impacts of climate change, identified by the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, are addressed in the projections and determinations of the system’s capacity.
The city will also delve more into the future of the west end lands, implementing a phased approach to development that should see parcels being ready for construction by the end of the year. An urban mixed-use zoning classification will be introduced, a detailed planning/design study for phase 1 and other efforts to support the West End Concept Plan will begin.
Land designation and rezoning for both the neighbourhood and regional west end parks will also begin.
Infrastructure renewal and improvement
In 2024 the process of redesigning the city’s financial reserve system to bring it into alignment with the Capital Asset Management Program (CAMP) will begin. Nicol says thanks to CAMP, the city knows, for the first time, its infrastructure debt, which is $126 million. Selkirk presently funds its annual renewal needs by 68 per cent.
“There’s a gap there, we’re not doing it at 100 per cent. It’s been this way for many decades hence the infrastructure debt. But we have been making headway in the last 10 years, and we are committed to not just closing that gap, but working towards reducing the long-term infrastructure debt,” he said.
“That’s why in 2024 we’ll be restructuring our reserve system to help make this align the reserves with the funding needs of infrastructure. It’s a pretty dramatic undertaking, rewriting all the reserve bylaws and restructuring, but it’s the next big stage of our asset management program.”
There will be a full reconstruction of the 200 block of Toronto Avenue, including new water mains, sewer relining and a new storm drain installation which means the combined sewer/storm water system will be gone. The street will also get a sidewalk which it currently does not have.
Resurfacing of Mercy Street between Strathnaver and Pacific and Vaughan to McLean will be done. A protected north/south bike lane along Mercy will also be installed, running from Greenwood Avenue to Gerdau.
Main Street will be resurfaced from Manitoba, north to Lake and since the driving lanes of Main Street are a Province of Manitoba responsibility, it will pay for the resurfacing. The city will take the opportunity to repair the curb lanes, install a bike lane on both sides of the street, improve active transportation and make required boulevard and median improvements at the same time. Sidewalks will also be restored, modern, accessible crosswalks will be placed at Morris and Queen and new street trees, naturalized planting and bioswales to better manage stormwater will be added.
Culture, recreation and planning for the future
The feasibility study for a multipurpose facility to replace the Selkirk Arena, or Barn, will be completed in 2024 and public engagement and the detailed design of the proposed facility will begin.
“Council is increasing the allocation of reserve contributions to help build the city’s financial capacity to undertake the project when the detailed design is complete,” Nicol said.
“It’s similar to how we managed the fire hall expansion and the new wastewater treatment plant, we built the tax system to be able to afford what’s going to be a very large and expensive project.”
The city will apply for funding from higher levels of government for construction when the detailed design is complete. The city has received more than $800,000 from the province that will be used to help pay for the engineering and detailed design for the new facility.
There is money in the 2024 budget to help the Garry Theatre get off the ground. A business plan was completed in 2023 and the city has allocated funds to assist in building a board of directors and, along with the province, fund costs to retrofit the theatre. The city will also provide time-limited funds for operating costs to get the new theatre started.
A number of city buildings will receive roof repairs, a transit bus will be ordered, the Fire Department’s breathing apparatus will be replaced, and Selkirk’s beloved Chuck the Channel Cat statue will have restoration work done to improve the aging landmark.
The city is always striving to make improvements that better the lives of citizens. Making sure the public is informed and that the city has the right people in place and the technology to deliver is key to success and will be again in 2024.
The city’s Citizen Engagement Division will review and update the marketing and communications strategy that will act as the blueprint for internal and external communications for the next five years. And, as part of the city’s internal service alignment, both the Information Technology and Human Resources Divisions will have strategies, or blueprints, developed to help build systems to support and improve citizen services and maximize productivity in city operations.
Selkirk remaining affordable
The City of Selkirk’s mill rate has decreased by an average of 1.5 per cent over the last 20 years while the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has increased by 2.3 per cent. Taxes this year will go up by only one per cent. There was no tax increase last year.
“The city’s working hard to stay affordable, make strategic investments and to improve core services in the face of inflation and severely aged infrastructure,” Nicol said.
“There is an increase this year, but it’s following a year of no increase, so on average over the last two years there has been a 0.5 per cent increase, which is significantly below what we’ve seen in the past number of years in Selkirk, and what we continue to see in other communities.”
In 2024, for every $100,000 of assessment, a homeowner will pay $1,036.08 in municipal taxes. In 2023, that same homeowner paid $1,025.82.