Tax increase expected as City to switch back to original transit plan

By Scott Roblin
November 10, 2017 - 5:01pm

MEDICINE HAT, AB – Medicine Hat residents can expect to pay slightly more in their taxes in 2018, as the City reverts back to their original transit system.

At the first Public Services Committee meeting of the new term on Friday, the committee agreed to amend the 2018 budget to increase transit spending by $650,000.

Councillor Kris Samraj sits on the committee and outlined what areas that money will be used towards over the next year.

“Part of it is restoring weekend service, that was a big chunk of the money that was saved in the old system there,” said Samraj. “Then the other part is there’s some staffing requirements that come up there as well.”

That staffing requirement includes adding a fleet services mechanic, which was a temporary position that was expected to be eliminated during the transit redesign over the summer.

In response, the City of Medicine Hat will be boosting their general tax increase in 2018 from 4% to around 5% to off-set the costs of returning to the old system, or about a 1% change.

Councillor Julie Friesen is the chairperson for the committee and said this move was necessary due to the transit savings that will no longer be available for the City.

“This is not an additional $650,000 over what transit had previously cost,” said Friesen. “It is the recognition that we will not be saving the $650,000 that was anticipated with the changes to transit.”

Costs associated with the downtown bus terminal will also be re-introduced, though operating costs for the terminal were not part of the $650,000 removed from the 2018 operating budget.

It’s estimated the bus terminal costs around $120,000 to operate per year, with a decommissioning, sale, or lease of the facility expected to come in a future budget.

Friesen said the City is looking at ways to make back some of those lost savings, including petitioning the provincial government for transit funding, similar to what Calgary and Edmonton receive.

“It’s our view that kind of support should not only be generated to two communities, it should go to all communities that have transit systems,” she said. “We feel quite strongly about that, and we will continue to lobby very strongly with the province about that.”

Transit user fares and fees will be reviewed in the new year, with the City saying they're putting a focus on 'dependent riders' or those who are highly dependent on public transit.

The proposed budget amendment will be voted on by Medicine Hat Council on November 20, while the transit system will revert to its previous state on November 27.

User fees for City facilities to climb again in 2018