Council approves 3.5% tax increase to support budget

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by Calli Stromner

Morinville – After an additional round of budget amendments, Council unanimously passed the 2014 operating budget and capital plan with a 3.5 per cent tax increase to property owners. The $7.7 million budget was whittled down by another $117,300 on March 11 after much debate and discussion around service levels and how expenditures are reported by administration, particularly with respect to the Morinville Community Cultural Centre (MCCC) and its ongoing annual deficit.

Councillors Stephen Dafoe and Barry Turner had Community Services in their crosshairs for much of the final budget meeting and sought Council’s support to reduce the Performance Series expenditures by $40,000 and freeze the Community Services budget at 2013 levels respectively. Turner’s motion to freeze levels was subsequently withdrawn and Dafoe’s motion to reduce the concert series budget by $40,000 was defeated 4-3, but not before an impassioned plea from Chief Administrative Officer Debbie Oyarzun to wait for the new Operations and Business Manager to analyze the operations and expenditures at the MCCC, a process that could take several months.

“I’m suggesting that let’s do the review, bring the operations manager in, look at opportunities or cost savings,” said Oyarzun of the proposed amendments to decrease funding to the Community Services area. “I worry that it could be premature and losing the things that you’ve worked hard to put in place.”

Oyarzun added that administration had moved staff and line items around in this year’s budget so that functions and purposes were aligned, but which also made it “impossible” for administration to determine how much of the 2014 Community Services budget could be lowered to 2013 levels.

“It is embarrassing to me that we can’t produce the numbers for the Performance Series,” said Councillor Dafoe. “This isn’t about cutting community services.” Mayor Lisa Holmes also weighed in on the lengthy debate with administration over the Community Services and Performance Series budget saying, “This is a disaster that needs to be dealt with and that’s what we’re doing. If we make these cuts, we don’t know what will be affected.”

Other budget amendments included:

– A decrease of $9,500 to the Community Grant program, leaving $20,000 in the budget for community groups to apply for;

– The removal of the fire emergency warning lights that had been proposed for installation in front of the Morinville Fire Hall, saving Morinville taxpayers another $38,856;

– A decrease of $5,000 to the overall Council budget used for public relations, sponsorships, etc.;

– Elimination of a $7,000 grant request from the Morinville Minstrels with a recommendation that the local singing group apply for funding under the Community Grant program;

– Reducing a new funding request from the Morinville Food Bank in the amount of $13,860 to cover rent down to the $2,500 Council has traditionally granted the group in previous years;

– The elimination of $20,000 for appliance rebates under the Town’s Water Conservation Program and the addition of $10,000 to purchase organic waste bins to give away to residents on a first come, first serve basis;

– The decrease of the overall taxation increase to 3.5% from 4%, which resulted in a savings of approximately $37,000; and

– The addition of six annual family dances per year to be paid out of existing budget dollars.

Council also gave third and final readings to the water and sewer bylaws, which establish the user fees and charges for both utilities. The Waste Management Bylaw was deferred to the next Council Meeting on March 25 so that staff could adjust pick-up schedules to ensure the transition from weekly to bi-weekly garbage pick-up was done seamlessly.

While Council passed the 2014 Budget, they still have not approved the annual Mill Rate Bylaw, which formally establishes the property tax mill rate. That legislative requirement typically takes place in April and must happen before tax notices can be sent to property owners at the end of May.

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