By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Council Chambers were opened Tuesday night for the first of two budget open house sessions this week. Six residents joined Town staff to look at outlines of projects, hear a presentation on how tax money is collected and spent, and express their viewpoint on the validity of projects by spending a handful of play money on projects they deemed worthy. The process will be repeated during another open house Thursday night, after which the dollars will be tabulated as input on how money should be spent.
Council gave first reading to the 2013 budget Oct. 23. As laid down at first reading Budget 2013 consists of an $11 million operating budget combined with a proposed $3.6 million in capital projects. Chief Financial Officer Andy Isbister said ratepayers will be looking at no more than a 2 per cent increase in the municipal portion of their 2013 tax bills even if Council were to pass the budget exactly as presented at first reading. That tax increase, coupled with a 2 per cent increase in real assessment growth, will see an additional $246,184 going into Town of Morinville coffers next year.
Councillor Lisa Holmes said the 2 per cent target identified at first reading was not a Council directive. “In this year’s budget we didn’t focus on a percentage rate,” Holmes said. “We looked at what needs to be done; the projects we’ve started that we need to continue. The things that we feel are important to move the community forward – operationally or capital. We’ve never had the conversation of a percentage of what our taxes are going to be increased this year. We’ll see what happens when we have the open houses and see what the priorities are.”
Isbister agrees. “The 2 per cent was a number I felt comfortable with bringing forward to council,” Isbister said, adding he understands people in Morinville pay a fair amount in taxes. “We want to keep it as close to inflation as we can. I felt 2 per cent was something I could bring to Council that maybe they would support.”
Cuts will be coming
If Tuesday night’s open house is any indication, Council will be chipping away at the 14.6 million proposed budget in order to slim spending down. Maintaining a 2 per cent tax increase and funding everything in the budget would deplete Morinville’s operational reserves to approximately $8,500. It is a situation that is unlikely to happen and the two open houses will give Council some direction on what should be trimmed or cut. “If everything was approved, we would have our homework to do between now and this time next year because we couldn’t bring the same kind of budget forward again,” Isbister said.
Although few attended the open house Tuesday night, those who did expressed their thoughts on where money should be spent by literally putting money where they felt it should be spent. Following a formal presentation on the budget process, participants were given 15 operational dollars and 15 capital dollars. Town staff held envelopes with the various proposed projects and participants deposited their dollars in the project envelopes they felt worthy of support. Left over dollars were deposited back into reserves.
One participant who was pleased with Tuesday night’s open house was Linda Lyons. “I was extremely pleased with their efforts and the presentation they did,” Lyons said. “Thy clarified a lot of my questions with their boards and my thoughts are I wish they had included some of that stuff in the presentation.”
Lyons said she was glad to get clarification on how the Town of Morinville’s various capital projects are funded through capital reserves and provincial grant allotments. “I really felt they didn’t ever tell us before as residents what was grant funding from the province,” Lyons said. “That was really good. I still have some questions and I’ll probably still do a presentation on the 13th.”
Council will hold a second open house session Thursday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Council Chambers. A public forum will be held during the Nov. 13 meeting of Morinvlle Town Council prior to giving the 2013 budget second reading. Depending on input received during the public forum, Council could defer second reading until the next meeting. Second and third reading will not take place at the same meeting.
Information on the draft budget can be found at www.morinville.ca/town-government/budget-2013.