Ratepayers in Western School Division will see a tax increase, according to Board Chair Brian Fransen at Wednesday night's proposed budget presentation. The thirty and a half million-dollar budget will be invested in approximately 2350 students in the next school year with an estimated $115, 000 surplus. (This could change once the budget is finalized.)

With$725,000 operating costs added to the budget next year to launch the new École Discovery Trails, rising costs and the recent reinstated local taxation authority given back to school boards since the October election, the mill rate is increasing from 11.82 last year to 13.87 this year, which is a 17% increase. 

"It is a big tax increase. I won't hide behind empty words with that, it is a big tax increase. What we are doing though is understanding that we have had some big tax decreases over the last several years and that isn't unsustainable in our environment. So, what we're doing is we're looking back a couple of years at approximately 2020, that's kind of what we're looking at in terms of a burden."   

WSD Board Lisa Burley, Darcy Wolfe, Brian Fransen and Susana HawryshkoWSD Board Lisa Burley, Darcy Wolfe, Brian Fransen and Susana Hawryshko

This is Secretary Treasurer Carl Pedersen's nineteenth budget with WSD, he explained how the money will be spent. 

"Of the new expenditures this year, a lot of it is in staffing. It doesn't take much staff to add up to a lot of dollars with a lot of zeros behind them. We have to deal with projected increments for staff and step increases and so on. So, with staffing being 80% of our total budget, that's where we're taking the biggest increase. The other thing too is with opening a new school and not having the support for that area until we get through a full year, we have to kind of upfront all that too." 

Although some of the three quarters of a million dollars may come back to the division in the next fiscal year, it's not clear when or how much. 

Pedersen explained there have been years of restricted income impacting this decision. 

"With our assessment growing well over 2% every year and our student body growing over 2%, it's been a difficult number of budgets for the last number of years. So as a result, we've been kind of peeling back all those discretionary items that we could and so on and now it's getting to the point, if we kept on that same track, it would take us probably about five years to save for a single bus." 

Right now, it has gone from about one year of reserves to safe for one bus to two, but Pedersen said that isn't the only price increase the division is experiencing.  

Brain Fransen with historical mill rate slide

"As you look across the operations of Western School Division, there's lots of places where costs have really increased and we're in a pinch. When you don't have the funding to match that, we have only one source to go now."   

At Wednesday night's presentation, Fransen gave the example of a $400,000 house receiving an increase of $369 before the Education Property Tax Rebate and after the rebate, the number will be $184.50. He acknowledged the fact that farmland and businesses will not benefit from a rebate and will be hit a little bit harder.  

Fransen said many voices, including students, staff, and community, were gathered in the creation of this needs-based budget.  

"We've seen and heard a cry for support for mental health in our community and in our schools, and this year, we were able to provide some resources and supports for that for next year and that's something that we're really proud of." 

Brian Fransen with proposed budget items slide

A regulation space for students at MCI, increased guidance and resource and Speech and Language and Occupational Therapy as well as Behavioral Consultants and staff training investments and more Information Technology devices and infrastructure are some items included in the proposed expenditures for the 2024-25 budget. 

Feedback is welcome to the board of trustees. The budget will be finalized by March 15th. 

Find the full PowerPoint presentation from the WSD Budget Presentation on the division website.