Editorial: Open house or open your wallet

It’s budget time in Morinville and rather than decide how our money is going to be spent, our elected officials are leaving those decisions up to us. They’re going to hold a couple open houses this week, bus in seniors and hire babysitters so mom and dad can come to see our politicians and tax dollars in action. The MCHS Band is being brought in to lead us all in the fiscally responsible singing of that old Beatles gem – Taxman. OK, that last part isn’t true, but it ought to be because it is going to be one elegant affair, complete with flow charts on easels and play money to spend.

They’ve got a laundry list of ways to spend our money (the real stuff) that range from $5,000 to fund growing tomatoes and other edible plants in the parks to $80,000 to create plans for the parks the tomatoes will grow in and the kids will play in.

In years gone by council spent a lot of hours in council chambers debating the budget program-by-program, project-by-project. For the media it meant hours sitting and looking at mayor and council, although we don’t see so much of the former these days. For the public it meant they just had to pick up one of the local news publications to find out the pluses and minuses so they could complain about it in the coffee shops of Morinville.

Last year and this year council passed first reading of the budget with no public discussion at all and then threw the media a 10-page document after they had voted and moved on with the next item on the agenda.

This short cut in the process did two things: it left the media with a lot more free time to cover other stories, and it left all of us who care about how tax money is spent in this community with no choice but to get off our collective couches and complacencies in order to head out this week and find out where our hard-earned bucks are going…or look at the budget online and submit comments.

Good for Council. Good for Administration. Good for them both for sticking to the script of the Municipal Sustainability Plan and ramping up community participation. And good for them for throwing all of us a bit of a curve ball again this year on what is traditionally a pretty mundane financial process, one that often results in apathy during the process and plenty of whining after the fact.

We’ll be attending both open house nights – the first to cover the process as media; the second to ask some questions as tax payers.
We’ll be asking how big a tax increase we can expect next budget after Council is reelected and our reserves need to be replenished after they were drained this year so Council could hold taxes to a modest and reelection friendly 2 per cent increase.

What will your questions be? Will you come out and participate in the process in order to shape the budget or will you simply wait until the budget is decided for you so you can complain about it as you dunk your donut in your large double double at Tim Hortons?
There are two open houses this week. Nov. 6 and Nov. 8. They are being held in Council Chambers beginning at 6 p.m.

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  1. I will be out of town all week, so I will not be able to attend this year’s open house. However, I would like to put a few questions out there that I hope someone could ask on my behalf:

    1. What is not being done e.g. infrastructure maintenance put on hold, things that our staff needs but not being purchased, etc, to keep the increase at 2%? Is that the right answer?

    2. How much are my utilities going to go up?

    3. Do we have anymore future development consulting projects that we are paying for without the capacity or funding to put them into place in a reasonable (say 3 years) timeframe? If we don’t have the capacity, save the money, unless you know someone in the consulting business who is building future work.

    4. What is the plan to put a cap on Town employees? Is there a plan to rationalize the ones we have now? We are paying a lot in salaries, and the amount only seems to climb higher each year. This concerns me a lot.

    5. What is the final tally of the cost overruns for the Plaza renovations? Was someone held accountable for the sudden increase in price? Have the procedures to tender these projects been reviewed so that something like this doesn’t happen again? What is the impact on next year’s budget?

    6. What is the true picture of our Town’s reserves? I read an article in another paper (Mirror ?) that said we would be left with just $8,000 after various things are paid, but I don’t really believe that number. Could someone please confirm this.

    To those who can, I recommend attending. I had a great conversation with some members of the community, councillors and town staff. If I was here, I would be going.

    Thanks,

    Brent

  2. Brent, good questions and ones that many of us are asking. I’m going to put my email address in here, please contact me and I will gladly give you my eight pages of questions and concerns that I have prepared from looking at the budget. I have sent these to each and every councillor as well as the CAO and will be prepared to ask during the open house.
    Please email me so that I can send you my comments – lindaly@telusplanet.net

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