HUMBOLDT — Humboldt’s in good financial shape, Mayor Rob Muench told the audience at a state of the city address.
The address was hosted by the Humboldt and District Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 11.
“We've paid off an incredible amount of debt in the last couple of years and now we're able to use that money to do some of the capital projects that we've been maybe not doing enough of, so I think that’s good news,” he told the Journal after the address.
Between 2016 and 2018, the city paid off $1.53 million in long-term debt, with $667,000 of that paid in 2018.
With less interest payments, the mayor said, money can be spent on other items.
Muench said when it comes to major projects, the focus has been on water lines and roads. Because water from SaskWater is expensive, the city has been focusing on fixing leaky pipes, then repaving the road on top.
“When you're losing a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of water every year from your leaky pipes, you want to make sure that you're addressing that type of thing before you pave the roads.”
According to the mayor, 60 per cent of roads are in good shape – defined by engineers as having a good structure and minor deficiencies on the surface. Of the remainder, 30 per cent are in fair shape – requiring moderate maintenance to salvage the structure – and 10 per cent are in poor shape – past the point of preservation.
Muench also pointed to the city’s effort to keep taxes low by keeping increases to the tax levy in 2017 and 2018 to two per cent, as well as making an effort to adjust taxes for those businesses that saw huge spikes when their property assessments were revalued in 2017.
The mayor also talked about the results of a study the city did that looked at Melfort’s tax abatement strategy and see what it would look like it applied to Melfort.
If Melfort’s strategy was applied to Humboldt between 2008 to 2017, Humboldt would have lost $1.36 million in property taxes. Yet, it found that between 2008 to 2017, Melfort saw $45.5 million in commercial permits, while Humboldt had $55.9 million. Humboldt had 23 per cent more commercial growth in that period than Melfort and 29 per cent more residential growth.
“We think the results from that study show that we need to concentrate on making it more attractive in the next number of years for businesses to come here, through getting our commercial tax rates to a reasonable level, a competitive level in the province.”
The mayor said that making sure commercial taxes are competitive and reducing the ratio between what a resident pays in taxes and what a business pays will not only make it more attractive for new businesses to come to Humboldt, but help current businesses. That said, he’d like the city to be more aggressive in attracting new businesses.
“I know we have some retail space in the community that's available, some commercial space that I'd like to see something come into, and I think everyone in the community would like to see more opportunities for shopping local.”
With lower interest payments, as well as fewer water mains and roads to repair, the city is hoping it can start to work on other projects that are needed but have been struck off the list at budget time, like Centennial Park updates and a park on the north end of town. A new lagoon system is also needed, with cost estimated to be around $30 million.