By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – A week after two successful open houses, Morinville Town Council took another detailed look at the proposed 2012 budget during Tuesday night’s council meeting. After debating and shaving $450,500 in spending off the proposed budget, Council voted 6-1 in favour of second reading – Councillor Ben Van de Walle casting the single opposing vote.
The Town’s first draft of the budget, given first reading Nov. 8, showed a post-debenture payment deficit of a $485,645. Adding $602,500 in operation projects brought the total deficit to $1,088,145. That negative number was proposed to be funded from operating reserves in the amount of $1,037,413, leaving an excess deficiency for 2012 of $50,732.
However, input from residents at the open houses held Nov. 14 and 16 gave Council a little clearer insight into what residents wanted to see their tax dollars funding in 2012. Two of those residents, Linda Lyons and Paul O’Dea, were put on council’s agenda Tuesday night, each presenting their ideas on areas that should be cut, could be cut or simply needed a good review.
For Lyons there were a number of concerns, including projects that did not warrant tax dollars funding them. For O’Dea there was a desire to have Morinville have an outside company look at the amount of money being spent on staffing as well as internal efficiencies to see where savings might be had. With respect to Lyons, there were some kindred spirits on Council in terms of projects to be shaved. With respect to O’Dea there was a general agreement that just such a study should be conducted. A notice of motion is set to come to the next Council meeting to ask for just such an assessment.
Plenty of debate on budget
Having had the opportunity to meet and discuss budget spending and projects with Morinville residents over the past week allowed Councillors to bring those concerns to Tuesday night’s debate together with their own ideas about what should be cut.
Councillor David Pattison advocated for reducing the $80,000 earmarked for economic development to $40,000. “Having not done economic development in some years, I think that number is adequate,” Pattison said in arguing his point. The motion was carried unanimously.
Pattison also advocated squashing $71,000 for an electronic sign to promote the Cultural Centre and other community events. The councillor had originally suggested allotting $20,000 for a sign or series of signs.
Councillor Paul Krauskopf recommended cutting $60,000 from a proposed $185,000 in spending for technology implementation, citizen engagement and marketing and public relations. Krauskopf also spearheaded another $17,500 in 2012 savings by postponing a multi-term council plan and walking trail signage ($10,000 and $7,500 respectively).
Councillor Holmes first swipe at the budget was advocating reducing $200,000 targeted for a playground in The Lakes District to $100,000. Holmes also pushed for $10,000 in savings by moving funding requests for the Arts Council and Community Gardens to the Community Grants Program which would be increased by $15,000 in 2012. Holmes also recommended granting Vanier School $30,000 for their playground instead of the $60,000 that was in the initial version of the budget. Another $100,000 was saved on the budget by splitting $200,000 in funding for an East Boundary Road Study between 2012 and 2013 by having the project commence midyear. All Holmes’ items were carried by the majority of council.
Councillor Nicole Boutestein requested $42,000 be removed from the budget for smart board and other technology for Town Hall, suggesting those items could be funded by existing renovation project monies. The councillor recommended adding $50,000 to the budget to help provide shelving for the Morinville Public Library’s renovations; however, the motion was defeated 4-3 with councillors Holmes, Boutestein and Van de Walle voting in favour of the additional spending.
Councillors Boutestein and Pattison co-orchestrated another $42,000 in savings by reducing $72,000 in spending for design work on three parks to $30,000. This item was based on a suggestion from Mayor Bertschi to have design students compete to design the parks or take employment over the summer with those projects as a focus.
But not all councillors had money to cut or add on their agenda. Although he raised questions and made comments during the debate, Councillor Gordon Boddez passed on his opportunities to put forth any items to be cut or added, instead spending some considerable time prior to the vote giving a speech on how Morinville must be cautious in raising taxes to the point the community is no longer attractive to current and prospective residents.
“I think that’s the elastic band we are dealing with here,” Boddez said. “At some point it gets too tight and we have to be careful.”
More shavings to be done
But while most of council put into practice a desire to reduce spending by putting forth items to cut, Mayor Lloyd Bertschi put forth a motion for administration to shave an additional $150,000 from the Town’s 2012 operational budget. Councillor Van de Walle asked for the amount to be double; however his amendment was defeated 6-1, his being the only favourable vote. Council then voted unanimously to ask Administration to cut another $150,000 from the operations budget.
Now that budget 2012 has passed second reading, Council will be seeking further input on the budget prior to third and final reading, which is set for Dec. 13. Updated budget documents will be found on the Town of Morinville’s website at www.morinville.ca and comments are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.