By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Ratepayers can expect to see a 3.5 per cent increase to their 2011 property taxes and an additional 2 per cent increase to their monthly water and sewer bills in the New Year.
Based on the average home in Morinville being in the $300,000 range, the impact on ratepayers is believed to be $80 per year.
The across-the-board 2 per cent increase in water and sewer rates is believed to represent an average per household increase of $22 per year.
The combined impact of the budgetary increase would be $102 per year.
Morinville Mayor Lloyd Bertschi said he was pleased with the 2011 budget and an increase substantially less than some neighbouring municipalities are facing.
“We’ve had those big shocks a few years ago,” Bertschi said. “We had a couple years in a row where we were 8 per cent. Sometimes you need to have a couple of years of corrections. As I said during the campaign, I think our days of having these big massive corrections to get caught up are behind us. I think very clearly the staff did a great job here.”
Bertschi said the 3.5 per cent increase covers a 2.5 per cent increase in municipal operations and a 1 per cent increase to fund the Morinville Public Library, whose 2011 budget sought an increase in Morinville’s contribution from $140,285 to $208,901.
“I’m not a big fan of giving people 50 per cent increases like that, even though they’ve been traditionally underfunded,” Bertschi said. “But by the same token, I was glad we were able to do it. But it does impact one full per cent to the taxes. So for a municipal operation at two-and-a-half per cent; that’s about the cost of living in the province, which I anticipated we could do. So I’m really happy with that.”
After two days of discussions, Morinville Town Council has now gone through the draft 2011 budget, removing some items and adding others to arrive at a budget that, on paper, shows $182,916 going into the Town’s reserves.
The budget as presented to Morinville Town Council Tuesday afternoon showed an estimated $402,084 deficit after the 3.5 per cent tax increase; however, after council deliberations on each of the proposed items, additions and deletions changed the financial picture.
The first item to be removed was a proposed $315,000 capital works project to re-circulate water used at the Morinville Splash Park. Council heard that 16,000 cubic metres of splash park water now goes directly into the sewer system at an annual cost of approximately $10,000 per year. Council directed administration to investigate the possibility of finding a way to store the water for use in watering plants and other non-potable applications.
Another $300,000 was taken out of the budget for a proposed retrofit of the Civic Centre and Morinville Public Library. With the Community Cultural Centre opening in 2011, there is a plan to move the Town’s Community Services Department to the new facility and to move the tax department to the upper floor of Germaine Plaza. This would open up additional space on the lower level for an expansion of the Morinville Public Library.
Originally included in the draft budget as a 2011 capital project, the proposed $3 million retrofit would have consisted of $500,000 in grant money and a $2.5 million debenture.
Council have agreed to put off the $2.5 million debenture and to remove $300,000 from the $500,000 component, using the balance for architectural design and some of the initial work needed in the 40-year-old civic centre.
Another item removed from the budget was $100,000 earmarked for a long-range technology plan for Morinville. Councillor Ben Van De Walle, who has long advocated the need for a technology review, spoke in favour of deferring the project for another year.
The $715,000 in budgetary trimmings put the budget in a $312,916 surplus situation. Council agreed to hang on to $100,000 of that money as a contingency plan should the Town of Morinville be unsuccessful in obtaining a $200,000 federal grant for Morinville’s upcoming centennial celebrations.
An additional $30,000 was added to the budget to install an aerator on Sunshine Lake to help control algae in the summer. The draft budget originally called for the installation of an aerator only on the Fish and Game Club’s pond.
The $60,000 expenditure for the two pond aerators is one of 30 capital projects planned for 2011, projects that will cost approximately $8 million.
The lion’s share of capital project funding will go towards paving 107 Street to the Fish and Game Club ($2 million) and renovations to Morinville’s south pump house ($2.8 million). Both capital projects will be funded by a combination of provincial grants, developer contributions and, in the case of the pump house, municipal reserves.
Other capital projects include extending the street lights on 100 Street, burying power lines behind the high school and cultural centre, the purchase of portable commercial scales to assist traffic enforcement and the installation of a new scoreboard at the arena and message centre for the cultural centre.
Also added to the budget are a number of new positions administration feels are necessary for the Town of Morinville to work more effectively and to meet work loads.
The budget calls for the addition of an assistant chief administrative officer (CAO), communication and marketing coordinator, economic development officer, facility maintenance operator, occupational health and safety officer, planning and development administration clerk, RCMP and community police officer clerk, a tax and utility clerk, as well as a full time technician, booking manager and three support staff for the Morinville Community Cultural Centre.
When added to the recent hiring of a manager for the Community Cultural Centre, the additional human resources requirements will cost the Town of Morinville an additional $733,769 in wages and benefits in 2011.
Morinville’s CAO Edie Doepker said the positions are necessary and the addition of the assistant CAO would better handle the capacity of work. Doepker said the additional positions were needed to allow the organizational structure to catch up with the needs of council and the community.
Morinville’s new councillors were most active in discussing the new positions. Councillor Lisa Holmes questioned the need for a full time technician at the cultural centre and why the centre’s manager could not also handle bookings. Additionally, she questioned the need for an assistant CAO when she had yet to see a job description or salary level for the CAO.
“It seems there are a lot of upper level staff and not a lot of admin level staff,” she said.
Councillor Nicole Boutestein also questioned the $94,000 being budgeted for hiring an assistant CAO for nine months in 2011, an amount that would be annualized to $125,000. The councillor said she did some research on Workopolis and found the maximum salary for the position in other centres was $111,000 per year.
Mayor Bertschi defended the rate, stating benefits were included in the budgetary figure. The mayor said Morinville juiced up its benefit package a few years ago to prevent the loss of staff.
But not all of Morinville’s new councillors questioned the addition of the position. Councillor David Pattison said his research showed few communities over 5,000 residents that did not have an assistant CAO.
Mayor Bertschi also agreed the new positions were needed, particularly in light of the growth of the community and the number of projects coming up in the New Year.
“I’m really excited about some of the work that’s going to be happening over the next four of five months as far as our strategic plans and long-range plans, so that we can marry those with our budgets,” Bertschi said, adding it is work he’d hoped to see done in 2010, but the delay of the Town’s Municipal Sustainability Plan delayed those items. “Really looking forward to next year when the budgets are going to be supported by strategic plans and business plans.”
The revised budget will be brought before Morinville Town Council for first reading Dec. 7. It is anticipated second reading will take place Dec. 14 with third reading Dec. 21. Council may opt to give second and third reading at its Dec. 14 meeting.