Local residents who were hoping for a spending spree by Estevan City Council in the 2014 financial plan will be disappointed.
What we're going to get, at least on the general operations side, is a budget with restraint, as council's focus in 2014 will be on completing previous capital projects and debt reduction. The City will spend nearly $8 million on uncompleted capital items from 2013, and $5.8 million on debt repayment.
According to numbers in the 2014 financial plan, the City's debt load will be about $37.7 million on January 1, 2014.
Of course, the big capital project in 2013 wasn't even in the initial budget released 12 months ago: the much-needed restoration of Highway 47 through the northern half of the city. And while there was some money from the provincial government for the rebuild, the City was still on the hook for most of the expenses.
The good news is that the 2014 budget contains money to restore the next section of Highway 47 through the city, from the intersection of Sixth Street and 13th Avenue to the intersection of Souris Avenue South and Fourth Street. The ruts at those two intersections alone require significant attention, and the potholes on Sixth Street west of Souris South are becoming more problematic each year.
Other projects that will be carried over to 2014 include repairs to Milne Crescent, the overdue extension of Wellock Road, and the long overdue repairs to the Leisure Centre's parking lot.
But there won't be new big-ticket road repairs this year. If you were hoping to see a rebuild for the troublesome areas of King Street, a shave and pave for the rutted portions of Perkins Street, or resurfacing for some of the crumbling residential roads, you'll be disappointed.
There are some new, smaller capital projects for other departments, but nothing spectacular.
Residents can expect another mill rate increase in 2014, too. It shouldn't be as significant as the two-mill increase that happened this year, unless another road rapidly deteriorates during the winter months. Budget for a one-mill increase, and be happy if it's just half a mill.
Reasonable people understand that for upgrades to happen, a mill rate increase is a necessity. Want to see a rebuild for half of Highway 47? Your taxes will have to go up. But if there is a big tax increase, and council does nothing with the money, then people will revolt.
The bulk of the new capital spending in 2014 will be for the water treatment plant and the wastewater treatment plant. A utility rate increase will be needed for that to happen.
The work of new City treasurer Jeff Ward should be applauded. Ward has supplied council with a simpler, easier to read financial plan that lacks the ambiguities, redundancies and confusion associated with previous budgets.
He has also switched how carried over capital projects are included. They aren't "financed by previous surpluses" anymore. The previous system was flawed; the new approach is improved.
Hopefully the changes result in a better, more accurate budget each year.