by Colin Smith
Morinville Town Council gave first reading Jan. 23 to a 2018 operating budget that would result in a six per cent tax increase for property owners in its current form.
The draft budget calls for $19.8 million in total expenditures, up eight per cent over the previous year. Town revenues are expected to rise six per cent to $20.3 million, for an overall budget surplus of $590,000.
For an average Morinville home, with an estimated value of $300,000, taxes would go up by $124.
First reading is the initial step in the approval of the 2018 operating budget, which was prepared by Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Isbister and presented to council by Shawna Jason, Director of Corporate Financial Services. As is customary, councillors were unanimous in accepting first reading.
Included with the budget was the 2018-2038 Long Range Capital Plan, which calls for tax-supported expenditures totalling $142,889,068 over the next 20 years.
“The most important thing to remember at this point in the process is that the first reading of the budget is based on the recommendations of administration, and also includes the full amount of all community requests from the Morinville Community Library, Festival Society, and the Morinville Historical and Cultural Society,” said Mayor Barry Turner.
Public feedback sought
An open house to allow the Morinville residents to share their opinions on the draft budget will take place Jan. 30.
Residents can also comment and ask questions through email at email@example.com and through “Citizen Budget” on www.morinville.ca until Feb. 6. Updates will be posted on the site.
“Right now is the opportunity for residents to provide feedback to Council on where they would like their tax dollars to go, and Council is listening,” Turner said. “I would also ask residents to please attend the upcoming open house and respond to the online resident survey to let Council know exactly how you want tax dollars spent.”
Second and Third Reading after public feedback
The 2018 Operational and Capital Budget will be brought back to Council for second reading on Feb. 13, at which point it will be open for amendment. The budget with any amendments will then be made available for public comment. Amendments may again be made before the final document is approved at third reading.
Turner said he expects there will be changes to the budget that will bring the overall increase down to somewhere between two and four per cent.
“Over the last several years, the staff of the Town of Morinville have brought expenses in significantly under budget, and I believe that this year it is time to sharpen our pencils around expenditures to ensure that we are only collecting the tax dollars that we need to balance the budget and keep tax increases to sustainable amounts,” he said.
“It is important that over the long term taxes are in line with surrounding communities, as this also impacts the overall attractiveness and affordability of Morinville. If taxes are high compared to other communities, it impacts the growth potential of the town, and economic development opportunities may be lost as a result.”
Salaries and benefits up $1.2 million
In 2018, $8,851,196 is budgeted for salaries, wages and benefits, up from a forecast $7,630,171 the previous year, an increase of That $1.2 million increase reflects the results of the 2017 bi-annual compensation review, legislative changes, and cost of living allowance, with a benefit increase of about four per cent.
The Town of Morinville staff will have the equivalent of 74.21 positions, not including casual/seasonal positions. This will include four new positions. Three are full-time: an IT system analyst for Corporate and Financial Services, a parks and arena operator and a utility officer in training, and there is a .6 communications support position in the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer.
Library funding up 56% to support wage parity
The mayor said he anticipates some debate around the proposed grants to community groups. As it stands, almost half of the six per cent tax increase (2.8%) is based on the proposed increase in library funding to bring library staff up to competative wages following their own compensation review.
“There will be some discussions around doing what we can to use innovative approaches to supporting our community partners to help them achieve their goals while minimizing the impact to property taxes,” Turner said. “I expect to hear a lot of debate from residents and members of Council about the proposed increases in this area.”
Morinville News received no response to requests for comment from Library Manager Isabelle Cramp.
If the budget were approved as is, the grant to Morinville Library would rise 56 per cent over 2017 to $679,769, while the Morinville Festival Society would get 53 per cent more, at $28,215. The museum would get another $4,000, for a total of $106,000.
The numbers reflect the presentations from these groups and organizations received by Council during budget discussions at a retreat in December.
In its presentation to Council Jan. 23, Morinville Library argued that in recent years the library has suffered high turnover rates (27 per cent in 2017) because the Library Board can’t provide reasonable incomes. With a living wage in the Edmonton area calculated at $16.31 per hour, eight of the 16 members of the library staff make below or just barely above the living wage level.
For staff to be paid at a more reasonable level, in 2018, the library requires $679,769 ($19.99 per library visit based on a projected 34,000 visits) to continue providing the same level of services, according to the presentation.
Funding of $106,200 has also been allotted for 17 community events including, the Christmas Festival, Alexander Partnership, and Canada Day. With spending for other initiatives, that brings total community support to $980, 784.
Other spending results from investment in new initiatives, CAO recruitment along with higher costs for information technology, regional disaster staffing, dispatch fees and annual memberships including Edmonton Metro Region Board and Edmonton Global contributions.
Development of a Long Range Financial Plan is budgeted at $50,000, as are a Fire Master Plan and Recreation Master Plan/Trail Plan Update. A Service Level Review is to cost $30,000, with the project scope to extend into 2019, a Storm Utility Review is taking $25,000, and there is $60,000 for the ongoing Human Resources/Payroll Services Initiative.
As detailed in the 2018-2038 Long-Term Capital Plan also being considered by council, tax-supported expenditures totalling $142,889,068 are planned over the next 20 years. The biggest-ticket items include $43.5 million for the Rec Centre Phase 2 A and B, $18 million for the Regional Protective Services Building and $13.2 million for the East Boundary Road – Cardiff Road to Manawan Canal.
In 2018, budgeted capital spending is $2,616, 300. That includes $710,000 for road rehabilitation and neighbourhood revitalization, as well as $500,000 for new traffic signals.
Morinville has already seen a combined rate increase of 1.9 per cent for Water, Sanitary and Waste Services, for the average residential account. Council approved the rate increase on December 12 last year and it became effective January 1.
Mayor Barry reiterated the importance of residents sharing their opinions on the proposed budget.
“Resident input can have a significant impact on the final decisions that will be made,” he said. “First reading is a recommended budget tabled by Council based on Administration’s recommendations and requests from the community. Now it is Council’s turn to make adjustments based on feedback from the public.”