By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The 2011 draft budget came before Morinville Town Council Tuesday night but failed to receive a majority vote when it came time to give the document first reading. Councillors Ben Van De Walle, Lisa Holmes, Nicole Boutestein and David Pattison voted against first reading.
At issue was a lack of information and clarity on a number of budgetary items, chief of which was the proposed addition of 14 new positions to Town staffing.
The 2011 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. At the Dec. 7 regular meeting of council, councillors learned a special events coordinator had been added to the mix; a position which administration indicated was already in existence but was being made a permanent position.
The additional human resources requirements will cost the Town of Morinville an additional $749,411 for 2011, an amount that would be increased to approximately $959,673 in 2012 when salaries and benefits for the positions are annualized. Proposed hiring for 2011 would come midway through the year for some positions and therefore do not represent a full year’s salary and benefits.
During the discussion on the budget Tuesday night, Councillor Lisa Holmes raised concerns similar to those she’d raised during last week’s budget deliberations; namely, the need for a full time technician for the Community Cultural Centre and whether the new facility needed three full time maintenance and service staff. Additionally, Councillor Holmes wondered if some of the proposed administrative positions, including the assistant CAO, communications and marketing person and economic development officer could be combined into one or even two positions.
Holmes said she was not opposed to the addition of new positions, but wondered what the long-term effect on the budget would be heading into 2012 and beyond.
Mayor Bertschi asked if council wanted to go through the positions one by one, allowing Council to vote collectively on whether or not they would be approved; however, veteran Councillor Gordon Boddez did not agree that was the way to approach the matter.
“I don’t doubt that they need these positions,” he said. “I’m not going to question if they need those positions.” The councillor said his only concern was the long-term sustainability of the positions, particularly if they affected future capital projects in future budgets. “That would be where we really have a parting of ways.”
Boddez felt, and was supported by the Mayor in the view, that it was not Council’s decision to say what positions were needed or not because it would be saying councillors knew the operational needs of the Town better than administration.
It is a point of view shared by Morinville’s mayor Lloyd Bertschi.
“When we start discussing as a council the operating requirements of this community, we are getting down into the administration level and we are way past where we should be dealing with this,” Bertschi said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “We have to have faith in our administration that they are bringing budgets that include positions to deliver the services at the level we want.”
Councillor David Pattison said he was not opposed to the addition of new positions within Morinville’s administrative structure. Rather, the councillor said he was looking for clarification on what the Town would be committing to in 2012 and 2013 with regard to staffing.
“I have no problem with staffing being required,” Pattison said. “All I want to see is what does that mean in terms of our budget commitments in forthcoming years.”
Pattison cited a 2008 three-year plan that contained a budget outlining projected staffing increases over the period. “That’s all I’m looking for,” the councillor said. “When you start talking those number of positions right across the board, it gets really important that council have a look at this.”
The councillor said it is important to him that he has a full understanding of the ramifications so that he can carry his obligation to represent the people of Morinville and be able to tell them why he voted yes when he does vote yes.
“It really comes down to having a good understanding of what the commitments are,” he said, adding he doesn’t want to see 2011’s budget passed and then see a major impact on 2012’s budget. “It’s just a simple matter of having information.”
It is a position shared by fellow Councillor Nicole Boutestein, who also voted against first reading Tuesday night.
“I still think we’re lacking some information,” Boutestein said. “Until I am crystal clear, I will not pass this budget and if it takes just me to always vote against it, then that’s fine. Like anything else, it’s majority rules and if there’s two out of seven that vote against it, I’ll be one of those. When you see my hand go up to vote for this budget, it means I have a clear understanding of it.”
For Boutestein that clear understanding transcends what the budget means to Morinville in 2011, extending to the effect on 2012’s budget.
Councillor Boutestein, in addition to having some reservations on increased administrative costs, also has some reservations about spending $190,000 to bury power lines behind the Community Cultural Centre and Morinville Community High School.
“I would have liked to defer that to 2012, and there’s a few other things on that budget that refer to the High School-slash-cultural centre that I would have like to have seen moved to another year. But I think their theory is they would like to finish it all at once and be done with it.”
Although concerned about some capital projects, Boutestein said 90 per cent of her concerns were with the new positions.
“I’m not begrudging anyone anything, but I’d rather proceed with caution rather than turning around in a year and have to lay people off,” She said, noting she did not think that was the right way to do things.
Two weeks left to pass the budget
Mayor Bertschi said he was disappointed Council was not able to give the budget first reading Tuesday night, but said administration had made a commitment to come back with the information councillors felt were missing from the equation.
The Mayor anticipates giving both first and second reading to the budget at the Dec. 14 meeting, with third reading coming Dec. 21. In the event the budget fails to pass first reading again on Dec. 14, council would attempt to give the budget all three readings Dec. 21; however, there would need to be unanimous consent to give the document third reading the same night.
Bertschi said there is an opportunity to pass an interim budget, a situation that would authorize administration to use 25 per cent of the 2010 budget amount for the 2011 budget until an actual 2011 budget was approved by council. The mayor said he does not like to see Morinville go to an interim budget because it could push 2011 capital projects back.
“We want to get out to tender on some of these projects sooner rather than later to make sure they get completed in 2011,” he said, adding early tendering gives the Town of Morinville some assurance in securing contractors to do the projects. “It’s fraught with danger to delay a budget into January because the earliest it would pass would be the second week of January (Jan. 11).”
Morinville Town Council has scheduled another meeting for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14.