Town opens doors for budget discussions

by Lucie Roy

On Tuesday, Council Chambers was the venue for the Budget Open House & Public Consultation. The afternoon presentations from the administration were also open to the public; however, less than 10 attended. For those unable to attend, the event was live streamed.

The Public Session and Open House was held from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. with more than 50 in attendance, a good number of those library staff and board members. During the public presentation, only one presentation was made by Alan Otway, who urged Council to consider community needs versus community wants. Otway suggested that items like fireworks were not essential tax items and that perhaps residents could have an option to pay a little more with their taxes to accommodate such items, or community groups and businesses should offer such activities.

From Jan. 26 to Feb. 6, the public is encouraged to provide their input and feedback through the Citizen Budget at morinville.citizenbudget.com and by email at budget2018@morinville.ca. As of last night’s budget sessions, the Town had received more input through Citizen Budget in 24 hours than all of last budget season combined.

The 2018-2038 Long-Range Capital Plan Summary of Projects was provided, which included discussions on Perras Place Development for $45,000 in 2018 and up to a total of $80,000 overall, Ray MacDonald Sports Field Ball Diamond Redevelopment for $35,000, and replacement Hall and Tech equipment for the cultural centre for $46,000.

Pedestrian Bulbing along 100 street and 100 Avenue to provide safer crossings for pedestrians is in the budget at $180,000; however, this is to be funded from a dedicated safety reserve that is funded entirely from photo enforcement revenue.

The town is also looking at 2 portable work signs for Public Works for $60,000 that would advise of snow clearing and other key info, and a digital replacement sign by Husky for $65,000.
Park Field Developments will add another $160,000 and fleet replacement at $414,800 and $250,000 to order an ice resurfacer or Zamboni machine for the arena and an outer one which could be used at Heritage Lake.

Also covered was $50,000 to develop a site plan for the Rec Centre’s 77-acre site, $80,000 for sewer upgrades and $710,000 for roads and neighbourhood revitalization.

A request for a trail connecting existing trails to the new rec lands from Councillor Nicole Boutestein could add more to the budget if Council chooses to pursue it this year. Boutestein was concerned it was not included in the budget and wanted to be sure it was not missed so it could be prioritized. Two trails will eventually be incorporated and gravelled and ready to be paved at a later date.

2018 Operating Budget – New Staff

The Operating Budget has a proposal for three more full-time permanent staff for 2018 and a .6 of a full-time staff member as well. These include Communications Support for CAO, Parks & Arena Operator, Utility Operator in Training, and an IT System Analyst. The cost of the four positions is approximately $300,000. The public works positions would be the first additions to the department in seven years.

The four new positions represent approximately one-quarter of the overall increase in staffing, wages and benefits in 2018.

Property Tax

Deputy Mayor Stephen Dafoe made a request for Administration to return with what a split mill rate would look like. Dafoe cited a CFIB report that shows Morinville has the lowest business tax in Alberta, being the only community to charge the same mill rate for residential and non-residential. Dafoe suggested maybe it is time to move to a split in the mill rate for business and residential by half a percent or one percent, which would still keep Morinville the lowest in the province.

Operating Projects

Six projects were listed for a total of $265,000, which included a Service Level Review at $30,000 that could include library staffing and operations review, a Fire Master Plan at $50,000, a Recreation Master Plan/ Trail Plan Update at $50,0000. Council may opt to combine the rec site plan with the rec master plan. A Public Works Storm Utility Review is in the budget for $25,000 and a Long-Range Financial Plan for $50,000. Human Resources/Payroll Services software was presented at $60,000, and staff argue the software will be in place for a long time, saving staff time in a variety of departments.

Supporting the Community

The community grants and support drew the most attention during the public portion with many library members and supporters in attendance. The Library funding for 2017 was $433,753 with a requested 57 % increase to $679,769.

Morinville Community Library Manager Isabelle Cramp said, “This is a first reading so I know there is going to be some things that will be probably looked at and increased and removed. I am looking forward to, well anxious to see what those things are going to be.”

Cramp said the library is definitely looking for more money for the library.

“The board is asking for an increase to bring the staff wages and salary to parity [with town staff] and not just parity, but bring the staff which to above the minimum wage. Hopefully, our increase goes through or we will have to go back to the board with our budget and see what can be done. One thing I would like to add to this is that it is really easy to take good things for granted and people should really aim or strive to participate when there are occasions to do so to support what they think is a good thing in Morinville. There is a survey going on online right now for residents to put in their two cents and I am hoping that if people believe the library is a good thing in the community that they do take the time to take that survey and show their support.”

The library currently has 16 employees and 15 volunteers.

Also drawing attention was the Museum with a 4 per cent increase from $102,000 in 2017 to $106,000.

The total community grants for 2018 totals $856,984.

Community Events

Total Community Events for 2018 is at $106,200 and this covers many events including Canada Day at $16,500.

In reporting an idea he heard from a resident, Deputy Mayor Dafoe suggested rotating the Oktoberfest, French Heritage event, Military Appreciation event, and a potential Alexander partnership event annually so that the four events would run one per year. If passed, the town would spend $37,000 per year on the events. The resident suggested would have the town spend up to $15,000 for one event each year, saving $22,000 annually.

Priority, Needs and Due Diligence

Priority, needs, wants and due diligence was the message by Alan Otway who was the only resident to make a presentation during the final portion of the night.

Otway is a two-year Morinville resident who attended an all-candidates meeting for the election of this council.

“Virtually every member of the council made a statement to the effect that they heard loud and clear that taxes is first and foremost in the hearts and minds of the community,” Otway said. “Please keep this in mind as you decide on the budget. Prioritize the needs and the wants”

Otway said he did not pretend to know the detail priorities of this community at present. “I Count on my elected council to complete due diligence and act accordingly,” he said. “I do, however, want to be sure that the principles of good budgeting are kept top of mind in the decision process. The needs must be addressed first. The remainder of the funds can be allocated by priority towards the wants.”

Otway said he did not see fireworks displays as a need.

“Things like this should be funded by those who wish to bring it to the community,” he said, noting options such as community donations, business sponsorship, or even a volunteer spot on a tax form could support such initiatives.

On grants, Otway said it is a pleasant word used to take away the reality that this is merely provincial or federal taxes taken from your residents.

“Support of utilising this money for wants only creates an environment where the provincial and federal governments need more due to their popularity,” he said.

Comments/Opinions

Many residents came out to see how their money was spent.

Resident Dick Bolivar said he was there for more info on the property and tax increase.

Judy Carver went to get more info on the library and Council wages and said she is concerned about the 6% increase in the budget. “It is too much,” she said.

Joe Gosselin questioned the cost of the museum as did Linda Lyons. Having the books digitized and the museum as a virtual tour online was brought up by the residents.

Gosselin spoke of comments he had made in the past about the cost to the Town versus the low number of people who visit the museum.

Lyons said the museum is important to the community to preserve the heritage and the antiques to remember the first people who came to Morinville.

Both Gosselin and Lyons discussed cutting the hours to seasonal, but realized the costs would still be incurred during the winter for the space to be maintained.

Gosselin said he was not suggesting closing the museum but said their should be a debate about the museum.

Overall Linda Lyons said the numbers brought her out. “Six per cent is six per cent,” she said. “But they will cut it.”

Lyons said she watched the presentations live on social media but decided to come out to the public session and open house.

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