Letter: Reader has questions on 2011 budget

Letter in response to Morinville 2011 budget first reading defeated

Dear Editor:

I worked for the Provincial Government in various departments/ministries for 36 years in the budgeting field. For the first 15 or 20 years, I was in the so called “main” budgeting office receiving budgeting requests from the various departments of each Ministry. These would have to be reviewed closely prior to being presented to the Deputy Minister, then the Minister (voted representative) for their review and approval. The last 15 or so years, I spent as a Financial Officer in the various Departments (e.g. Provincial Parks) and then I was the one who worked closely with the so called “field” people who were doing the work and preparing and managing budgets at that level. Let me explain to our Mayor that we in the Province often had to completely redo our budget request 3 or 4 or 5 times. The first draft was just before Christmas and we did not receive the final approval until mid May. We often ran on “interim” supply until the final approval was received. I feel that I have a good understanding of the budgeting process.

I believe that when preparing a first draft of any budget for any level of government, there is always a “Christmas Wish List” and anyone who has ever worked in this type of organization will understand what I am saying. It is common to ask for everything and expect to receive approval for ½ of what is asked for. I believe it is the role and responsibility of the people that were voted into Council to have the authorization to veto any budget item that could be deemed as a “wish list” item. In my mind, the number of positions being asked for is extremely “rich” and unsustainable by the Town of Morinville. I do not believe that the true cost of these positions has been presented to either the council or the public. The true costs have to contain all items such as: mid-range salary PLUS Health Care PLUS overtime costs PLUS travel costs PLUS educational costs for courses etc PLUS the cost of space, furniture, computers, telephones, etc. etc. I believe that the $900,000 or so funding is too low. The councillors are calling for information and I’m assuming this means justification. I believe the entire tax paying community of Morinville should have the opportunity of reviewing the justification for this many positions as we are PAYING for them. Yes, we could all attend the Dec. 14th meeting but Christmas is a busy time of year and many cannot be there (interesting the time of year this type of business is done) when little or no opposition is available from the people due to busy work times and trying to fit in Christmas activities. There was also some talk about using funds from the “reserves” in the budget discussion I believe. When I looked through the 2009/2010 Interim Business Plan (available on line) I found that $945,202 went into the reserves from the Utility Supported items. What this means is that the revenue received, which was $3,727,459 for Garbage, recycle goods, Sanitary Sewer and water was higher than the expenditures of $2,727,459. To me this means that what we are paying for this service is higher than the costs. So when the council talks about items being funded from the reserve and not the taxpayers, I tend to disagree with this comment and wonder how many people know this.

My question to the mayor and the councillors is:

Why can’t all the information be posted on their website in a timely manner such as your news is one day after the event and not 3 or 4 weeks later? This would give people time to go the Town of Morinville’s website and find out what the budget items are, the cost and the justifications and then people could email their comments directly to those they voted for. We did not vote for the Town office administration and I would like to give them credit for the work they do – I know I was there for many years.

Talking about Town of Morinville’s website, they have done an excellent job and it looks great and easy to find. However, how many people knew that they could go to this website, click on Town Government, then click on Agenda and Minutes? This is great except the last minutes that any one can review is October 16th’ meeting. The November 16th meeting minutes will not be available for review until January 18, 2011. I think that this is unacceptable. Anyone interested enough to follow the town’s meetings on-line would not be able to read about the budget items until February or Mach (I’m guessing). What I would like to see on their web site is an interactive section for the people of the town to view items such as the budget IN DETAIL with justification prior to the final reading so that we could at least submit our comments. We cannot all attend meetings in the evening.

Linda Lyons

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  1. Right on Linda! In this day and age where publications such as Morinville News can get us info more often than not within a day or two what is stopping the town council from doing the same? Although I am fortunate enough that my fiancee can attend Council meetings when we so choose not everyone has that liberty. Some have to work, others have children to care for. I’m with you, it’s time our elected officials made the entire process entirely more accessible for all who wish to see it and not just those who can find the time to be at the meetings.

  2. You are correct in many of the things you state. But there a number of things that gets my blood boiling. A part time Council does the best for the community as a whole. Municipal budgets are always at the same time every year. I am sure if anyone wanted any information regarding the budget the Town would be more than happy to give it to you if you want more information you can contact either the Mayor or individual Councillors directly. If you are not happy with the way things are done at Council or how things are done perhaps in the next municipal election if anyone wants this job they can run. My hat goes off to Council cause I know how difficult their jobs are and how many hours are spent on the budget. It is easy to sit back and criticize, oh how easy that is. Make a difference if that is your true agenda. As to the number of new staff positions the Town has worked short for many areas/department for some time now, and you would only notice that if you really talked to a number of current staff that have way to much on their plates and are doing more than one job. Administration only brings to Council, after a well thought out plan the positions that can no longer go without. They do not just hire for the sake of putting more bodies in chairs. Again, if you truly have a problem with how things are then I would love to see your name on the next election ballot to see if you can make any difference and not get the criticisms after your decisions. This is truly a thankless job.

  3. Donna: qwitcherbellyachin!

    I think that most of us understand the “part-time” nature of the work, but this only makes it more imperative that Council performs what is known as “due diligence”, with respect to what the administration brings forth.

    As regards securing more information… I tried that with the Town’s By-Laws. At first I was advised that I would have to pay (on a per-PAGE basis). Then I was told that they could email me copies of the by-laws at no charge (THAT never happened). Then I was told I could access them on the Town’s web-site. Unfortunately, that is such an incomplete shambles as to be virtually useless! And we’re looking at spending even more money to ‘upgrade’ or ‘improve’ the site? How about fixing what’s broken FIRST?

    Staffing? Sure, and which current member of the Town staff is going to tell ANYONE that they are not “overworked”? C’mon folks – get real!

    Linda’s letter is a calm and quite rational approach to the issue and I don’t believe it justifies Donna’s quite vitriolic response!

    Have a nice day.

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