The City of Humboldt faced a challenging year. That’s the summation on behalf of City Council made by Mayor Michael Behiel during a chat reflecting on 2022. It was a year of progress on many fronts, but as inflationary pressures mounted and the impact of those were assessed, the Mayor admits that City Council had to face some tough decisions, particularly when it came to addressing next year’s budget.
“We all know about the massive inflationary increases that have happened,” said the Mayor. “It really threw a wrench into our five year budgeting plans, so much so that we were noting on some of our projects that we were running 25 to 45% over budget what we were planning for. Combine that with a number of unexpected expenses, it put us so much in a crunch that we were looking at a massive tax increase just to catch up.”
Mayor Behiel says administration and staff were instructed to head back to the drawing board to find creative and cost-effective solutions to maintaining the commitment to as many key projects as possible. He admits that initially rate payers could have been looking at a double-digit percentage increase in property taxes. Some of those decisions were driven by input received from a community online questionnaire.
“That gave us a lot of input and cause for reflection. At the end of the day, the increase went down to 5.1 percent. I wasn’t happy it was at 5.1, but I was ecstatic compared to what it was going to be.”
This summer, $1.5 million of the City’s spending went into the Highways 5 and 20 construction project with the balance of the $2.4 million project picked up by the provincial government. It’s those partnerships and grants that allows the City to maximize their dollars, says Behiel. Federal and provincial dollars will take up the lion’s share of costs for the upcoming wastewater project.
Infrastructure projects like water main replacements are an absolute necessity, Behiel points out, given the age of the existing pipes.
“The section we’ve Identified for this year is 105 years old. So we're seeing massive issues with breakage and water losses. One of the solutions we found is that we can put in horizontal PVC piping into the existing tube, so we don’t actually lose any volume without having to remove the old pipe. It’s been very effective and very cost efficient.”
The City also received a $50,000 grant for a transit study to provide solutions for what Behiel considers to be a major need. While no determinations have been made, Behiel envisions a hybrid between the current Handi-van and a taxi service.
Increased usage of recreational facilities at the Uniplex, such as the Aquatic Centre, means a need for increased maintenance and upgrades, creating another budgetary challenge for the City. The idea is for modern facilities to bring in increased traffic and usage by conventions and groups like the Saskatchewan Sheep Breeders Association who have made the Uniplex a perennial summer home. That money from visitors is spread throughout the community.
On the Community and Leisure Services front, the Mayor reported positive feedback on the community walking trails that expanded through the City over 2022.
“I’ve heard nothing but positive about that, because we want to make our community user-friendly for everybody.”
The Christmas lights that illuminate Highway 5 and Main Street are also receiving positive feedback this year. This bright blue and white LED snowflake motif that’s gone up for the first time this year is a welcoming sight for residents and travellers.
“We’ve done a five year plan to replace those and this is the second last year. It’s getting a lot of compliments, and as people are coming through the city, it’s making it look a lot more attractive.”
Another project that was pursued at this time for the cost savings is the installation of new columbarium structures at the cemetery. The vendor guaranteed current pricing for purchases within the next three years, ensuring the City could receive cost effective and matching structures.
We’ll continue our look back at the City of Humboldt’s 2022 with Mayor Michael Behiel in our upcoming part two.