More road work, slightly more taxes and more rebates on payments - those are the biggest takeaways from the City of Flin Flon’s most recent budget, released in a public meeting July 6.
City of Flin Flon accountant Dave Goodfellow, along with members of city council and executive staff, presented the budget at the first full in-person public meeting held by the City in months.
“I think they’ve [City executive staff] put together, with council’s support, a very, very good budget with very little increases for 2021 but a useful budget that will allow us to do more with roads and streets,” said Flin Flon Mayor Cal Huntley.
The budget will see total revenue go down for the City - going from $12,584,533 in last year’s budget to $12,239,216 this year - but will see municipal taxes go up slightly, going from $4,762,132 last year to $4,773,674 this year - a total increase in local tax revenue of just over $11,500.
The reason for the discrepancy, say City officials, is because a provincial school tax rebate will give money back for most property owners, offsetting the increase in taxes.
Mill rates in Flin Flon will go up .13 mills, going from 50.12 last year to 50.25 this year. Due to changes with provincial education property taxes, while most taxpayers will see their overall taxes go up, they will also receive a higher tax rebate than the one received last year. Goodfellow said, in most cases, taxpayers will eventually receive a rebate that will cover the increase.
“What this means is the taxpayer, when they come in to City Hall to pay their property taxes, they’re going to have to take more money out of their pocket when they initially pay. However, the province is going to give you that cheque at the end of the year,” said Goodfellow, explaining the formula using the example of a $45,000 property assessment. Goodfellow said a $45,000 assessment would mean $1,092.60 in education taxes under the new mill rate, but a quarter of that - $273.15 - would return as a refund, along with a $525 rebate.
“There’s no significant increases - you may feel there’s an initial increase because you won’t get the rebate until the end of the year, but it will work out to be, in most cases, a reduction,” said Huntley.
The 2021-22 budget was released several months later than the typical budget release date - the release of this year’s budget was pushed due to several senior officials leaving the City’s employ before the normal release date.
A decline in overall revenue will mean a decline in overall spending for City operations, though most City departments will see little or no change in funding. The biggest changes in this year’s budget are to fiscal services, where the City will cut well over $1.1 million, going from about $3.45 million in spending last year to $2.28 million this year.
Another big change will be in transportation services, but that department will see a large increase, with about $850,000 extra dollars devoted for the coming year. Transportation services will make up $3.87 million of the City’s expenses this year, almost a full third of the City’s budgeted spending.
The reason for that change is a jump in funding for fixing roads, streets and sidewalks. The City plans to spend $1.39 million on road and street fixes this year, up from $775,125 last year, along with $400,000 for sidewalk fixes in addition to the road and street cash. By contrast, the City only spent $25,000 on fixing sidewalks in 2020.
The City will pave 12 separate road and street areas throughout Flin Flon and will work on 13 sidewalk and curb areas, spread throughout the community.
“They were picked through the works and operations group, determining where the need was, then polling of council and other management to determine where. We increased the budget and there was an opportunity to do a little bit better,” Huntley said in a post-budget announcement July 12.
One major area where work will be done will be along Church Street, near Flin Flon General Hospital. In the July 12 announcement, Huntley said the City’s work will be staggered to avoid totally blocking off hospital access at any point.
“Obviously, Church Street really needs it.”
In the past two years, infrastructure spending by the City has been aimed at updating Flin Flon’s water and sewer system, with road and sidewalk repair a secondary priority. With major water and sewer projects now complete and millions already spent on the work, money and time has now been freed up for road works.
“One thing that's important to remember is last year, and even the year before that, we spent a lot of money on special projects, like pipes in the ground and renewals and things like that. We didn't have a lot of money left over to do paving and sidewalks,” said councillor Tim Babcock.
“People notice things like that, because it's what's in front of your house, right? They don't see the pipes going in the ground on Third Avenue or wherever. We've kind of been neglecting in that area, now getting caught up on some of the important things and this year, we're switching gears.”
For capital spending, the City plans to spend $1.2 million on various projects, the largest of which are an ongoing look at the feasibility of a replacement of the Flin Flon Aqua Centre ($400,000) and maintenance for water and sewer systems ($300,000). Another $185,000 will be laid out for pipe replacements and boiler renovation at the Whitney Forum, while $100,000 will be spent on accessibility upgrades for the Flin Flon Community Hall.
The Aqua Centre feasibility funds will go toward settling a site and kickstarting the process if funding expected from federal and provincial grants is received in the near future. The City’s plan for replacing the now-demolished former pool facility hinges on receiving federal grant funding, which has been delayed due to the pandemic. While the City remains interested in getting a pool project off the ground, little progress has been made in the past year.
“Those are dollars that are there, if we get approval, so we can confirm the right site and all that stuff,” said Huntley of the City’s feasibility spend on the project.
“[There’s] nothing that can be commented on… it’s been a very long wait, it’s very difficult. It really is. We’ve heard nothing negative. We’re very hopeful, but we can’t confirm anything at this point in time because it could put the project at risk.”
The City will also spend $421,000 in money from the provincial government on affordable housing programs - in the past, Huntley said the work would be focused on planning housing for seniors.
Other projects include expanding the Flin Flon Tourist Park ($75,000), a pair of pickup trucks to be used by City work crews ($70,000 from reserve), overall accessibility upgrades around Flin Flon ($50,000), park maintenance ($35,000), community beautification work ($30,000), technology upgrades ($15,000) and upkeep of City ball diamonds ($10,000).
Out of the City’s $12,239,216 total budgeted revenue, just over $4.6 million - almost as much as the City’s total tax revenue - will come from grants-in-lieu, the method of payment used by Hudbay to the City instead of paying annual property taxes.
While Hudbay is slated to wind down almost all of its Flin Flon operations in less than a year, the process of closing the doors and shutting off the lights won’t affect this year’s budget.
Huntley did not comment on the state of discussions between Hudbay and the City on what will happen to that grant-in-lieu funding after Flin Flon’s Hudbay operations go into “care and maintenance” next summer, but did confirm that discussions have at least taken place.
“That’s a conversation that’s in progress right now, and like any negotiations, we don’t negotiate in the press. I’m not going to comment on that right now,” said Huntley at the meeting.
“There was an initial conversation about the grant and we’ll see how it plays out but we don’t want to jeopardize our position by getting into a negotiation in the press. We have a good relationship with Hudbay and we’ll see how it moves forward.”