Council passes second reading on budget, with new cuts

by Tristan Turner

After some debate, additions and cuts, Council burned the midnight oil and passed Second Reading of an amended 2015 Operational Budget and Capital Plan and put Third Reading off to a later date this month.

Council heard public feedback to understand community concerns and hopes for the new budget during a Dec. 2 open house, as well as through social media, visiting community groups, and holding a series of coffee conversations at local coffee shops and restaurants.

The Operating Budget and Capital Plan that passed First Reading projected Town revenues for 2015 will be $12,447,194, a 5.9 percent revenue increase from the $11,777,327 budgeted in 2014. On the spending side, the budget presented $12,620,241 in costs to run the Town in 2015, an increase of $461,856 (3.66 per cent) over the $12,158,385 listed in the 2014 budget. Tuesday night’s Second Reading deliberations reduces expenditures by $9,000 with a possibility of $59,000 depending the outcome of a Council information request.

Cuts and requests for cuts

Thinking about the upcoming implementation of the Organizational and Effectiveness and Efficiency Review, due to be presented to Council Jan. 27, Deputy Mayor Stephen Dafoe felt it was important to set aside money to implement whatever may be necessary in response to the findings of Nichols Applied Management, the firm hired by the Town to conduct the review. Dafoe made a motion to set aside $25,000 for this purpose, but said that this must be done within the current budget, meaning that cuts must be made elsewhere to create room for the expenditure if needed. This motion passed unanimously.

Councillor Rob Ladouceur followed with an information request of administration on what they would do to find an additional $50,000 in expense reductions in the budget, a move that was unanimously supported by Council following concerns raised by Councillor Turner that the budget currently had the town spending $1,267,029 out of operating reserves, a move that would put the town’s Operating ‘Reserves’ at an actual deficit of 47,926. Councillor Turner felt this moved “looked bad” as it seemed to him that some residents may see this as the town using operational reserves to make debenture payments.

Councillor Brennan Fitzgerald posed some hard questions to administration on the Youth Council operational project, an item budgeted in the 2014 budget that he felt was not adequately completed. Last year Council budgeted $2,000 for the initiative that Councillor Fitzgerald said aims to establish a permanent youth body that would serve in an advisory role to Council on matters that impact youth in the community. Councillor Fitzgerald felt the initiative was not completed and took issue that the only listed outcome by Administration was a two-day youth conference held by the Sturgeon School Division and Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools that the Town “supported” under the Youth Council budget.

“I’m wondering how is it that a two-day youth conference constitutes a permanent youth council?” Fitzgerald asked Administration, adding the Town had no role in planning or implementing the ‘youth conference’. Fitzgerald said he spoke at the event and that the workshops dealt with substance abuse and healthy relationships and had little to do with the eventual development of an ongoing Youth Council.

“How is it that we are taking credit for this event?” he asked. “Where did the $2,000 dollars go and how does it equate to a Youth Council?”

CAO Deb Oyarzun responded by saying that she had hoped this event would lead to feedback that would be useful in developing a Youth Council. David Schafer, Director of Corporate Operations, said the Town was involved in the event in that they financially supported Morinville youth attending it.

Two Council projects received trimming by all or most of Council at second reading, both on motions from Councillor Nicole Boutestein. A proposed budget of $10,000 for a French Heritage event like the annual Oktoberfest evening was trimmed back to $5,000 with the unanimous support of Council. A subsequent motion to cut $6,000 from the budget by pairing back a proposed bi-monthly family dance or community family night event to three events passed with a 4-3 vote. Deputy Mayor Stephen Dafoe, Councillor Rob Ladouceur and Councillor Gord Putnam opposed the cut to the family events.

The additions and subtractions from Second Reading create a net reduction to the budget of $9,000.

The budget as it sits represents an approximate 2 per cent tax increase to Morinville taxpayers.

As the Dec. 9 meeting was Council’s last for 2014, the Mayor will need to call a special meeting of Council for third reading between now and the end of the month. It is likely the meeting will occur within the next week; however, no date was announced at the Dec. 9 meeting.

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