Prince Albert city council has opted to go ahead with a zero per cent tax increase in the 2021 budget but it remains unclear how exactly this will affect services.
Council had been prepared to vote on a 1.1 per cent mill rate increase earlier this week when Mayor Greg Dionne put forward a last-minute amendment that chops $355,000 in expenditures from the budget.
A total of $60,000 has been removed from the police budget, $50,000 cut from filling vacant positions and the balance – $235,000 – taken from a contingency fund.
Another $10,000 in savings will be achieved by cutting travel for council members and other interdepartmental cuts.
Terra Lennox-Zepp, the lone councillor to vote against the amendment, said the last-minute cuts are hardly a way to plan the city’s finances.
“I can advise that the items that were put forward by Mayor Dionne on Feb. 1, none of those items had ever been discussed by council previously to seeing them on the board on Feb. 1,” she said. “They’re all brand new concepts and we did not have the appropriate information about the items to be able to vote on them.”
Just the month before, council had unanimously approved a $650,000 increase to the police budget in early January.
Lennox-Zepp noted Prince Albert Police Chief Jon Bergen informed council at the time there is simply no where left to cut in the current police budget.
“I specifically asked the police chief if there were any items within his proposed budget that are things that could wait, or things that are not needed for this 2021 year – he emphatically answered, ‘no.’”
The Prince Albert area has one of the highest per capita crime rates in Western Canada.