A message from Mayor Schafer

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jerrod_0084jsMembers of Council, City Administration, and residents of Swift Current, it is my pleasure to present the 2016 City of Swift Current Municipal Budget.

I’d like to begin by thanking the entire community for their support and encouragement throughout 2015. I’m happy to report that 2015 was a good year for our community and 2016 has begun on a very positive note.

As we work towards our strategic goal of Twenty-five thousand residents we want to remain steady as we grow. The climate in Swift Current has strengthened over the past several years which is the result of the exceptional accomplishments that we have made together as a community.

It gives me great pride to reflect on how far we’ve come in the dozen years since I was first elected to City Council and then as your Mayor. In those 12 years, we’ve witnessed explosive residential growth in Swift Current, including both the Oman Hill and Highland subdivisions completely selling out, while the Saskatchewan Valley and Cypress Point residential communities continue to take shape before our eyes.

And the numbers don’t lie… during the 12-year span, when over 1,000 housing units were built in our City, total construction in Swift Current was $584 million, or an average of $49 million per year, which is evidence of the confidence in our local economy from investors, families and the private sector. To put that into context, the 25-year span prior had a total construction value of $240 million, or about $10 million per year. As our city steadily grows and prospers, so too do the values of our homes. In the last 12 years, the average sale price of a home in our community has increased by 175%, from $90K to $250K.

We’ve seen a surge in business during this period as well. 12 years ago, 992 Business Licenses were issued in our community. Fast forward to 2015, and that number soars to 2,308 licenses, with 143 new businesses opening their doors last year alone. We’ve witnessed the business boom in our Munro Industrial Park, which completely sold out last year. And as a result of business confidence, we’ve seen a revitalization of our downtown core, with new buildings, a thriving Market Square, and our recent acceptance into the Main Street Saskatchewan program.

Now in order to maintain this steady course for the next dozen years and the many dozens after that, we need the ability to shape tomorrow’s leaders, and by all accounts, education is thriving in Swift Current. Our wonderful Great Plains College has seen significant growth, not only in terms of upgrades to the facility, but also to its programming for students. Earlier this year, the City entered into a partnership with the College and the University of Regina that will see us collaborate to bring about even greater educational opportunities for our residents.

And it is for our residents that we strive to achieve all that we do. A community should support the people who call it home, and we are passionate about delivering the facilities and services that contribute to a high quality of life for every individual who lives here. Look how far we’ve come in a dozen short years: a brand new hospital, a state-of-the art long term care facility, a personal care home, the beautiful joint school facility, enhanced public transit service, water and wastewater treatment plants, upgrades to the I-plex to support accessibility and to allow us to host bigger and better events, and the Safe Places Youth / Certified initiative designed to protect our children and make our community a national leader in abuse prevention. We are growing, we are sustainable, and we are becoming a stronger community and we will continue to strive to remain steady as we grow.

And speaking of the Safe Places / Youth Certified initiative, I’d like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to all of you who embraced its recent launch, making me so very proud to be your mayor.

Today, we continue to maintain our enviable position as one of the country’s success stories. Swift Current was recently ranked number one in the province and 9th in the country in the latest Canadian Federation of Independent Business Entrepreneurial Cities report. We continue to see significant interest in development, as evidenced by our record-setting year during which total construction was valued at $88 million. We anticipate continued strong investment in our region over the coming years, as projects such as the SaskPower Natural Gas Plant begin to take shape. 

Fiscally, we have kept pace with the goals that we laid out in the current strategic plan and, thanks to the diversity of our local economy, it will help us with the short term impact of declining energy prices.  

The City of Swift Current works hard for its community and that hard work continues to pay off as we can still boast the lowest property taxes among cities in the province, and among most urban municipalities. As homeowners and as consumers, we always want to receive the greatest value for our hard-earned dollars, and I have the utmost confidence in saying that Swift Current delivers incredible value to our taxpayers.

Like other Saskatchewan cities working to capitalize on the provincial boom and reinvesting in aging infrastructure, we have had to ask our residents to pay a little more in property tax. 

Fortunately, affordability is still one of our economic strengths compared to other communities, and as I outline 2016’s property tax adjustments, we will be just as transparent, responsible, and productive as we continue on our steady, sustainable path towards our strategic goals.

2016 Operating Budget
Our Operating Budget encompasses the day-to-day, essential services that we provide to our community. We remain committed in our goal to provide the best possible services in the most efficient manner in order to maintain the exceptional quality of life Swift Current is known for.

Whether that service is the street sweeper cleaning our roads, the fire fighter inspecting a sprinkler system, the bus driver delivering passengers to appointments, the lifeguard keeping swimmers safe at our pools, or any of the many other individuals who work hard to deliver top notch services to the community, our team is dedicated to providing a safe, clean, caring environment for all of our residents, and to doing so in a professional, friendly manner. To keep up with cost increases, we will increase the residential base tax by $119.00.

2016 Capital Budget
Our Capital Budget is made up of the investments we make in projects that maintain key elements of our community and support our growth and prosperity. Responsible management of existing infrastructure is vital, and we strive to get the most out of our assets, keeping them in good repair and functioning both safely and effectively. At the same time, adding new assets that will sustain our growth requires prudent decision making that has an eye to the future while remaining ever cognizant of our needs today.

To continue to maintain our current infrastructure inventory and to make investments in key assets for our community’s future, an increase of 2.37% to our Capital Budget will be required.

Financial Strategy
I am pleased to report that in 2016, we entered year three of our five year Financial Strategy. At the core of this strategy is our desire to reduce our reliance on debt to finance capital expenditures and chargeable equipment. As a result of our efforts thus far, we have been able to reduce that reliance by approximately $2 million per year.

Going forward, the final two years will see us further reduce our reliance on debt, meaning that by 2018, we will have $3.6 million per year to fund capital, ensuring our light and power utility is a true benefit to the taxpayer for years to come.

Hospital Levy
I am very happy to announce that this year will see us make our final payment on our Cypress Regional Hospital, which has delivered the highest quality of care to our residents and the surrounding region since opening in 2007.

The newest healthcare facility in our region, the 225-bed Long Term Care facility, will be opening this year, which will provide a much-needed boost in both the care and comfort of our friends, family members and neighbours. As we transition from the Hospital Levy to the new Long Term Care Levy, households can look forward to 2017 with an approximate $60 in savings per year for residential properties and significantly more for commercial properties.

Utilities
In 2016, our utilities will continue to accommodate our growth while sustaining themselves without relying on tax subsidies for support. To achieve this balance, we deliver high quality utility services at a competitive, affordable rate.

Our Light & Power utility rates this year will continue to remain competitive with those of SaskPower. Rates for Water and Wastewater will be adjusted by 6% in order to meet capital and operational requirements. The solid waste utility saw an average increase of 5% to the residential collection fees in 2016 in order to fund the new Smart Cart residential waste collection system.

Summary
At this time, I’d like to comment on what our residents can expect in 2016, as it has already started off with a flourish and we have many exciting events and projects on the way. Our events calendar is significant this year, and we got right down to business right out of the gate when my friend and true Canadian hero, Sheldon Kennedy joined me for the screening of his documentary, Swift Current, and our launch of the Safe Places Initiative. 

That evening was quickly followed up by the Rogers Hometown Hockey festival, which brought thousands to our downtown core to celebrate Canada’s game with Ron MacLean and friends. Next, the recently completed, 2016 Ford World Women’s Curling Championship, which has returned to our community after just six years, is evidence that the world knows that we know how to throw a party. Other exciting events en route this year include a Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds demonstration at the Swift Current Airport in September, and then the inaugural Canadian Cowboys Association Rodeo Finals event at the i-Plex.

And while the fun and games will no doubt steal the spotlight in 2016, there are many important projects planned as well, including the refurbishment of the 2nd Avenue Overpass, the commencement of the rehab project at Memorial Drive South, the revitalization of 1.4 kilometers of streets and another 1.8 kilometers of sidewalks and curbs, the installation of services to expand our sold out Munro Industrial Park, and so much more.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the many women and men on our City team and the many more community partners, volunteers, visionaries, and every member of this great community for all that you do to make Swift Current the extraordinary place it is today. When Council sets strategic goals like Twenty-five by 25, we’re not afraid to dream big because we know we have a strong community of passionate individuals who have a reputation for making big things happen.

I’d also like to thank my fellow members of City Council and our City Administrative Team for their efforts in preparing this budget, which I believe puts Swift Current in a position to continue to thrive in 2016.

At this time, I respectfully recommend and move to Council that the 2016 Municipal Budget be approved and adopted in the amounts of:

Operating & Utility Expenses $54,749,952
Capital Expenditures $24,432,189
Total $79,182,141

Respectfully submitted,

Jerrod Schafer
Mayor
City of Swift Current