Winkler City Council presented its 2024 financial plan Tuesday night, with the budget for the year coming in at $29,251,115. Mayor Henry Siemens says there will be an average increase of 5% to ratepayers taxes.

"We felt this was a a good middle of the road budget," he said after the presentation. "It allowed us to make some plans for the future. It allowed us to fund what we needed to do today, while being very careful to be extremely respectful of the difficult ask we have on going back to the community and asking them for their money."

With that in mind, 56% of the city's projected revenues this year will come from local ratepayers.

"Forty-four per cent comes from outside," Siemens explained. "It comes from things like land sales, from things like support from the Province and from the Feds, for some of the things that we're doing. It is as high a percentage as we've ever had in that number, so it's something we're very happy to see. We're hoping we can continue to keep those numbers up, because anytime we're able to generate some of the funds we need without going to the local taxpayer for those monies, it makes it a much easier budget to work with."

Siemens reflected on how the increase is not nearly as large as some municipalities are facing this year, pointing to an early start on asset management, alongside several other key factors like age of infrastructure and the city's population as well as growth.

"That 5%, while significant, is much more manageable than we hear from many other municipalities," noted the Mayor. "Some of which are the victim of being older communities that have infrastructure that's closer to the end of its life. Maybe their communities aren't growing quite as fast. Then the last piece, again, we're fortunate we've been working on this for the past five years. We've really been quite diligent at making sure we put additional monies into reserves to try to start funding these shortfalls. We also have a plan to do this over a period of time, so we're able to mitigate the harshness of the number a little bit more in that regard." 

Siemens also pointed to the fact residents will see a $91 "healthcare" special levy on their tax bills beginning this year through 2027. This is part of Council's commitment to the Boundary Trails Health Centre expansion capital campaign and support for the Winkler & District Healthcare board.

"Every single time we have an additional (tax) roll come on, that $91 will drop a little bit," noted Siemens. "We anticipate that will be probably a dollar or two per roll that will decrease each year as we go. At the end of 2027 that will disappear completely off of your taxes." 

The city has three major capital projects on the agenda this year; the water treatment plant expansion which will see work starting soon, the wastewater treatment plant which has had its tender extended to April 4th, and if the numbers come in positively for that, the Centennial Arena renovation will also be part of the mix.

Over and above those items, other projects totaling $8.9 million will happen this year like the completion of the Clover Creek Industrial Park which includes pushing Icon Drive to Highway 14 and work on North Railway Street. The budget also included dollars for the implementation of a publicly subsidized transportation service in the city.

Siemens thanked all those who attended the presentation Tuesday evening, indicating it's nice to see people taking an active interest in the budget process.

- With files from Pam Fedack - 

You can listen to CFAM Radio 950 Morning Show Host Chris Sumner's In the Mayor's Chair conversation with Henry Siemens, below.