Surplus helps Fredericton balance its 2018 budget

Fredericton city council has approved a balanced draft budget for 2018 with no tax rate increase, thanks in part to a $3.5-million surplus from 2016.

Coun. Dan Keenan says the $116.9-million budget was approved, in principle, during a council-in-committee meeting Friday night.

Keenan, vice-chair of the city's finance committee, says balancing the books was not easy given the provincial property assessment freeze.

"We saw a reduction in assessments in some cases, and also a pretty significant drop in the assessment on provincial-owned properties," said Keenan.

Budget documents show the value of existing properties fell by 0.31 per cent while the value of new construction went up by 1.06 per cent, for a net increase of 0.75 per cent.

That's significantly lower than previous net assessment increases, which ranged from 1.38 per cent to 3.85 per cent between 2014 and 2017.

But Keenan said council and city staff were able to find enough savings to offset the revenue loss and avoid raising taxes or cutting services.

City continues to find efficiencies

In addition to the surplus, staff found $615,000 in new efficiencies through retirements, reduced energy use, and savings from a garbage contract, he said.

Fredericton has found $8.3 million in annual savings since 2012, and Keenan said continuing to find efficiencies will be important going forward.

"The CAO and city staff have set a target of 2.5 per cent of efficiency each year moving forward," he said.

"That will be able to contribute to the ability for us to continue to improve other areas while still balancing the budget."

Fredericton's $18.4 million capital budget includes about $2 million to start redeveloping Officers' Square, $900,000 for repairs to the Bill Thorpe walking bridge, and $1.4 million for a new wheeled sports plaza.

The budget will be formally approved by council on Dec. 11.