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Letter: A thaw for the budget open houses?

Reading Time: 3 minutes
(Last Updated On: Oct 27, 2012)

Editor:

A warm front…sorta?

It was encouraging to see the sun peek through the mist and have the proposed tax increase for 2013 announced in the October 23 edition of The Morinville News. The targeted increase for the “municipal portion” is set at 2%. This is not a bad number and Morinville’s Administration is to be commended for publishing it at the outset of the budget process.

But… it should be pointed out that the “municipal portion”represents only 72.69% of the total tax bill for Morinvillians and does not include water, sewer and garbage collection fees. Fees are not taxes? Curious. How did this soupy cloud take shape? What is the total proposed “tax”increase for 2013 when the remaining “portions”are added and when water, sewer and garbage costs are included? Fair questions.

Foggy with the possibility of sunshiny skies…

We are still a little fuzzy on some of the data needed to inform decisions? Maybe another breath of balmy air will blow through and defrost some of the large bergs to fiscal clarity that remain. Would it be possible for our Council and Administration to provide up-to-date 2012, comparative data and/or information, on each of the following at the Open Houses scheduled for November 6 and 8?

1. Intermittent showers on comparative taxes and tax data prevail…

Could Town Administration please provide comparative “tax” data (dollars paid per resident ) for Morinville as compared to: Redwater, Westlock, Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, Devon, Sturgeon, St. Albert and Edmonton? Please include the “taxes”(oops … fees) paid for water, sewer and garbage collection. A per-resident total for each community.

Do we want to know about “municipal portions”, other portions, those who include “fees” and those who do not? Not so much. Do we want one raindrop at a time or the whole shower at once? Let’s collect all of the bouncing droplets in one bucket. One chart please.

2. High pressure area is still staffing costs…

Morinville’s CFO states that, “You have to be careful when you are looking at the number of residents per employee or number of employees per resident.” No doubt… if staffing costs are tipping the scales at $5.5 million and contracted services are at $1.4 million for 2013! This represents an approximate increase of $700,000 from 2012. The last time Administration did a comparison Morinville was compared to 20 communities and our staffing levels eventually landed in the middle. Skeptics might argue that it took 20 communities for our staffing levels to finally “average” out?

If $6.9 million is slotted for wages and contracted services for 2013 how competitive are our staffing levels and/or costs going forward? Fair question. What is Morinville’s dollars paid per resident for staffing and contracted services when compared to: Redwater, Westlock, Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, Devon, Sturgeon and St. Albert? If this information were on display at the Open House and published in the local media we could all be informed by the facts. Are our staffing costs “in line”or not? How could this not be a good thing? One chart please.

3. Rainy days and rubber boots…

The arena just swam to the surface as an emergent need. These things happen. We plan for this stuff. This facility is a critical piece of Morinville’s infrastructure. What is the current state of our budgeted reserves? How have these reserves grown over the past three years? What is the plan for the next three? One chart please.

4.Cold front persists…

Are Council and Administration open to a third party operations efficiency audit? Yep? Nope? If nope continues to be the predictable response what performance metrics and processes are currently in place to determine the value for tax dollars spent? Two charts please.

A change in weather coming…

It is never easy to shift or move systems. There seems to be a new caution afoot in the land concerning budgets, services, and careful attention to the value received for tax dollars spent. We have a capable Council and a new CAO at the helm. This brings the promise of new opportunities.

Is there a warm Chinook building… or is that an entrenched Frost nipping at our wallets?

The quality and transparency of the information presented to inform our decisions at the Open Houses on November 6 and 8 should be an early indicator.

Paul O’Dea

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3 thoughts on “Letter: A thaw for the budget open houses?

  1. Paul,

    A humourous but effective letter. I, too, am quite concerned about the Town’s blossoming payroll. I did a quick comparison last year (or was it the year before?) of rising salaries since 2000-2001 and believe that our employee salary liability is a huge problem in the near future. What are we getting for the extra people? How do we measure their effectiveness?

    Once the number of employees go up, it is hard to lower without expensive buy-out packages, which pushes costs even higher. Every new position should be carefully scrutinized and the Town should be able to tell people what will fail if we don’t hire the person. I wonder if they have looked at hiring people for one year terms for the first year or two until the Town’s senior staff have had a chance to confirm the requirement for the position.

    Unfortunately, I am out of Town both days and won’t be able to attend. However, I will be sure to read the Morinville News to see how things went.

    Brent

  2. Again, Paul an extremely well written article with just the right amount of humour (or is it sarcasm?)
    Comment to Brent – sorry you cannot make to either of the Open Houses, but on November 13th, as part of the Regular council meeting, a 2013 Budget Public Forum will be held, providing an opportunity for residents and other stakeholders to make presentations relating to the 2013 budgets. Opportunity will also be provided to raise questions and provide comments on the budget. You can also provide comments by email or through the Town’s web site. I appreciate your comments and concerns and would be great to see you come out to the regular council meeting.
    Linda

  3. An excellent article Mr. O’Dea. One area you touch on is the 2% tax increase which will be offset by pulling from Reserves. Not only is this a horrible idea, it is ensuring future years’ worth of double digit tax hikes once our reserves have been depleted.

    Mr. Isbister’s strategy could be compared to someone using their life savings to pay the mortgage on a house that they can’t afford. Eventfully that life savings will be gone and you will have to find a way to still pay your mortgage. For a Municipality it’s easy, you raise taxes to cover the previous year’s level of spending, cost of living increases, and you hope that there’s a little bit left over to put back in to Reserves.

    I realize it is an election year and that current council probably wants to look like hero’s in the short term but I personally would much rather have a 5%-7% tax increase this year rather than a 10%-14% increase in year one of the next council term when our reserves are empty. The residents of Morinville are paying attention and I believe that current Council will be held accountable in the 2012 Election.

    I’d like to say our Mayor is on top of things and working in the best interests of Morinville however the rumor I hear is that he took a new job months ago and has left the Mayor’s duties to be carried out by the Deputy Mayor. If there is any truth to these rumours I sure hope the Mayor still isn’t collecting his town pay cheuque. I also hope the rest of Council is holding him accountable under the laws outlined in the current MGA.

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