Jasper National Park.

Jasperites can expect to see an increase in their property taxes next year, as council has set a target tax requisition about 20 per cent higher than in 2020.

Jasper Municipal Council set the target requisition – how much they want to collect in taxes – at more than $8.4 million for the 2021 budget year at a Nov. 3 meeting, an increase of over $1.4 million from 2020.

This number will be used as a starting point “with room for flexibility” for administration to plan the 2021 budget, and will be subject to a final decision by council in December.

Administration told council that $8.4 million represents the cost of providing 2019 service levels in 2021, considering fixed costs including utilities (electricity and gas bills for municipal facilities), insurance, and debenture repayments.

In 2019, the municipal tax requisition was $7.98 million, and in 2020, property taxes were set to increase by 5.3 per cent.

But when the pandemic hit, council voted to reduce the requisition for the year to $7 million to give Jasperites a break – resulting in municipal service cuts, layoffs, and reduced funds sent to reserves.

For 2021, administration provided a second potential figure, $9.1 million – 30 per cent over last year – which see 2019 service levels maintained in 2021 and meet requests by department directors to run their departments to “municipal best practice” with increased transfers to reserves, contracted maintenance and repairs, and meeting staffing requests.

Council went for the lower number as a starting point.

Coun. Paul Butler said the palatability of the increase to Jasper residents was a big consideration.

“No matter where we set the tax requisition, we are in... a very tight economic environment now, and have a responsibility to make decisions about service levels.”

Coun. Scott Wilson said he did not support service reductions and council needs to plan for the future.

“We're in this for the long haul,” he said.

The 2021 target tax requisition gives the administration department a starting point to work on a budget.

Council reiterated the $8.4 million chosen was a starting point for administration, and that there is room for flexibility.

“It's prudent to plan properly, to set a target, as opposed to writing in stone,” commented Coun. Rico Damota.

A 2021 operating budget will now be drafted for consideration by council at public budget meetings, which will be held on Nov. 23 and 25, followed by a final decision on Dec. 15.

FUNDING REQUESTS MADE

Representatives from Jasper Municipal Library and Jasper Victim Services made their 2021 budget requests to council this week.

Sandy Cox, chair of the library board, said the board’s annual grant from the municipality is the library's chief source of revenue.

She emphasized, “A library is more than a book exchange; it's a hub in our community.”

This year's ask is $190,000, lower than the $195,700 funding in 2019.

Angie Thom, director of library services, said the library is operating at 30 hours a week, but if all goes to plan, they hope to add 14 hours, and resume the 54-hour schedule by 2025.

Staffing has been increased to keep up with COVID -19 protocols and Cox said staffing and health care costs are the library's biggest expenses.

When Coun. Bert Journault questioned if user fees should be increased, board treasurer Angie Lemire said Jasper is one of the few libraries that charge user fees in the province.

Council also heard a budget request for continued support for Jasper Victim Services Society from Paul Schmidt, the unit’s coordinator.

In a letter, Schmidt noted $12,000 in scheduled 2020 municipal funding was reduced to $9,500 this year. He called the funding a key element in meeting a requirement for a $150,000 solicitor general grant. The grant was limited to $119,359 and no additional years were confirmed.

McGrath told Schmidt, “In your line of work, every year is a hard year,” and expressed gratitude to Schmidt and his team of advocates.

Council also discussed the unit’s service to a “visitor population.”

“It's not because we have fewer numbers that we have less funding,” Schmidt said.

“I'll be spending into our reserves this year.”

Both requests will be part of the municipality's overall budget.

PREPARATION, PREPARATION

Looking ahead to the 2021 tourist season, Coun. Jenna McGrath suggested establishing a sub-committee to handle downtown revitalization matters.

She said this could include the sidewalk seating project that was put in place to increase the flow of customers in light of the effects of the pandemic.

“The time is now,” she said. “We need to start this instead of leaving it until next June.”

Damota said McGrath's idea was a proactive approach and Mayor Richard Ireland said if businesses had more time to plan, “We would have seen a much better project”.

Butler said, “I agree that we need to do our best to provide businesses with as much lead time as possible. We are likely to find ourselves in the same situation.”

Pattie Pavlov, general manager of Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce, told council the chamber would be collecting feedback and suggestions about the project from 174 businesses.

Journault said even businesses that didn't take part in the project benefited from the traffic flow. Council will revisit the topic at the Nov. 17 meeting.