By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The Towns’ 2011 budget came before Morinville Town Council for a second chance at first reading Tuesday night and was once again defeated with a 4-3 vote. Councillors Lisa Holmes, Ben Van De Walle, Nicole Boutestein and Gordon Boddez voted against the budget as presented.
However, the same budget with a provision was brought back past council the same night and passed first and second reading.
The difference between the two versions was the second version carried a provision to hold back any commitment to hire seven of 14 proposed new positions until complete information can be presented to council as to the long term effect on future budgets.
Although the provision, as suggested by Councillor Holmes, included consent to go ahead with the hiring of just a planning and development administration clerk and tax and utility clerk – positions council agreed were essential – a friendly amendment by Paul Krauskopf added the five positions administration say are needed for the Community Cultural Centre to properly open in the spring. Those positions include a full time technician, booking manager and three support/ maintenance staff.
Krauskopf’s amendment passed with a 4-3 vote, Councillors Holmes, Boddez and Pattison voting against the amendment. The budget with amended provision then passed first reading with a unanimous vote. Second reading was opposed by Councillors Boutestein and Van De Walle.
Borrowing a concern
While the hiring of positions for the Community Cultural Centre was an issue for some members of council, the hiring of all proposed positions caused concerns for Councillor Gordon Boddez in light of future debenture costs.
Morinville passed a borrowing bylaw in the spring of 2009 that allows the Town to borrow up to $3 million to finish paying for the new facility. Repayment of that debenture would be spread over a five-year period at a cost of approximately $700,000 per year.
Additionally, the 2011 capital budget originally carried a $3 million expenditure to upgrade and renovate the civic centre and public library. The project was deferred during budget discussions, although $200,000 has been earmarked for architectural plans and some initial work on the 40-year-old building.
“I keep having that feeling about the sustainability,” Boddez said Tuesday night, noting that when the $3 million Morinville may need to borrow to complete the Community Cultural Centre is combined with the $3 million that may be needed to eventually upgrade and renovate the civic centre and library, the Town is looking at a considerable amount of borrowing which could affect future budgets.
“That’s $6 million which translates back into finding that money,” Boddez said. “Any debt is long-term debt.”
Administration has agreed to provide council with debenture and other info prior to next week’s council meeting when the budget is set to receive third reading Dec. 21.
Mayor Lloyd Bertschi said he was pleased to see the budget moving forward.
“I was really glad to see that Councillor Holmes came up with an alternate way of getting the budget passed because we couldn’t go into the new year without a budget,” the mayor said, adding he’s made it clear in the past that he is not a fan of interim budgets. “I think it just hamstrings your administration way too much going forward as far as moving initiatives. They have to be careful that they only spend money on staff, lighting, those types of things.”
Councillor Holmes, who made the motion to pass the budget with a provision, said she was also glad council was able to move forward.
“I wasn’t comfortable with the budget as it was but I also wasn’t comfortable with the idea of an interim budget,” Holmes said. “I think one of the reasons some of the council is having issues with the long-term planning is because we don’t have a strategic plan yet; we haven’t finished the MSP [Municipal Sustainability Plan]. We have all of these projects that we’re in the middle of working on. And if we delayed the budget and not passed it, we wouldn’t be able to start the projects. That was a big concern for me, and I’m glad that we were able to come to some sort of consensus of moving forward on the budget.”
The councillor said she is confident that Chief Financial Officer Andy Isbister will come back to council with the numbers and details needed for council to remove the provisional conditions passed Tuesday night.
The bulk of that information will consist of information on the Community Cultural Centre’s possible debenture which would begin to be repaid in 2012 and a debenture that will be needed when the Town proceeds with the upgrade to the civic centre.
Mayor Bertschi said the figures are important to the long-term picture.
“Without having those two numbers put into the operating cost for the next couple of years, using up a lot of the existing free cash flow – if you will – surplus dollars, and using the majority of it for staff positions could impact on your tax rate increases in future years,” Bertschi said, adding the potential impact of the two debentures, when combined with the increase in staffing proposed for 2011, was more than the majority of council was prepared to take. “I’m actually glad that they brought that forward.”
If approved, ratepayers will see a 3.5 per cent increase to their taxes in 2011. Based on the average Morinville home being in the $300,000 range, council believes the impact on the average household will be an $80 tax increase.
Council meets again Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m.