By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – A leaner 2013 budget passed second reading Nov. 27. After more than two hours of discussion and debate that shaved $300,000 off the $14.6 million budget, Council voted unanimously for second reading. Council will have at least two weeks to ponder further cuts before giving the document third and final reading.
Council gave first reading to the 2013 budget Oct. 23. As laid down at first reading Budget 2013 consisted of an $11 million operating budget combined with a proposed $3.6 million in capital projects. At that time, Chief Financial Officer Andy Isbister said ratepayers would be looking at no more than a 2 per cent increase in the municipal portion of their 2013 tax bills even if Council were to pass the budget exactly as presented at first reading. That tax increase, coupled with a 2 per cent increase in real assessment growth, will see an additional $246,184 going into Town of Morinville coffers next year.
Tuesday night’s trimming of the fat is unlikely to lower the proposed tax increase; however, it will certainly keep a little more money in reserves. As originally proposed, Budget 2013 would have depleted the Town’s operational reserves to just $8,210. The Nov. 27 discussions sliced $170,000 off operational spending, moves that will see operational reserves sitting at approximately $178,000 if no further cuts are made.
Some cuts make the cut – others don’t
A total of $300,000 was trimmed from the laundry list of projects proposed for next year. Of that amount, $130,00 was cut from capital spending, $170,000 from operational spending.
Councillor David Pattison argued for combining a proposed arena replacement study with a multi-use recreational facility study, a combination that shaved $60,000 in spending. The councillor also convinced his Council colleagues to shave $5,000 off a proposed $35,000 in spending for new trees in Morinville. Pattison also proposed and had approved shaving $20,000 off a proposed $40,000 for an MSI stimulus project and a Community Start Up project.
Councillor Lisa Holmes was able to get Council approval on shaving $80,000 off the budget by removing a plan to do additional park plan studies next year, preferring Council to work with the park projects already in place. Holmes was also able to shave another $5,000 by removing an Action Plan project from the list of operational projects.
Another $100,000 was saved when Councillor Sheldon Fingler got his colleagues support to pull plans to purchase an outdoor electronic sign from the list of proposed projects. Mayor Paul Krauskopf trimmed another $30,000 with the suggestion Council remove a proposed south entrance sign in light of the delays to the Cardiff Road interchange.
Councillor Gordon Boddez offered up the proposed Economic Development Officer position as a way to save another $100,000. Council shot down his motion because it was felt the position was needed to increase the residential / commercial tax split many residents have been arguing for over the past several years.
Deputy Mayor Nicole Boutestein put forward two potential cuts: reducing $20,000 for trees off the proposed $140,000 tennis court budget, and removing the inclusion of Belle Park in the trail expansion budget, the latter saving $31,500. Both motions were defeated.
Councillor David Pattison asked to add $30,000 back into the budget to pay for the burial of power lines in the older part of town. When told $30,000 would not be sufficient to do any portion of the $300,000 needed to do the complete job, Pattison raised the anti to $100,000. The budget addition was defeated.
Further trimming likely
Council could revisit the knife drawer over the next 14 days. Budget 2013 will likely come back to Council for third and final reading at the Dec. 11 meeting of Council.
With regards to the Economic Development Officer Position – Cost approximately $127,000, at the November 26th council meeting, Lisa Holmes defended this position saying that she listened to the residents at the open houses and she felt that this was a priority with them. I was at the first open house and there were very few people and I know that this was NOT a priority! So I looked back at Stephens article where he reported on the open houses and it seems like approximately 30 people attended and of this amount and I quote from Stephen’s article: “On the operational side residents were equally supportive of hiring an Economic Development Officer, creating a conceptual design for an eventual arena replacement, and simply putting money back into reserves. Roughly 14 per cent of available spending dollars were put into those projects. ” To me 14% divided among 3 projects by 30 people does NOT constitute a high priority!
What is a high priority for the residents of this community and was in the 2010 municipal election is increasing the residential / non-residential tax split, at that time something in the neighbourhood of 93 per cent residential / 7 per cent non-residential. It is my understanding Council sees and saw the hiring of an economic development officer as a step forward to achieve that end.
C’mon Stephen… You gotta know that while sorting out the residential / non-residential split MAY HAVE BEEN a high priority in the past, very real fiscal concerns TODAY have overtaken that situation. Spending that kind of money (PLUS the thousands, even HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars to maintain the position over time)cannot be considered as prudent in today’s financial climate.
Perhaps if our Chamber of Commerce took a more active part in ATTRACTING new business to our Municipality I would be less inclined to berate Council for spending tax dollars to buy tables to support the Chambers’ galas!
I maintain that IF we DO hire a so-called “expert” to sort out our Economic Development woes, we better have an inexpensive, iron-clad escape hatch if it doesn’t work out!
Jim – My comment was made to provide contextualization for the Councillor’s comment. The implication by Linda and therefore the inference from the reader may be that Councillor Holmes was suggesting the hiring of the Economic Development officer position was a direct response to the 30 people who stuck play money in envelopes during one of the two open houses.
This is not the case. Council’s defending the position in the budget is the result of what they have heard during their 2010 campaigns and beyond – and having delayed the hiring of an Economic Development officer to allow the downtown ASP and Highway 642 Functional study to precede it. Residents want more businesses to shop in and ratepayers want more businesses to carry the economic burden. Council clearly sees an Economic Development officer as a way forward. For good or for ill that is what the decision was based on not the 14% of play money popped into that envelope during a couple open houses.
I will not speak for the Morinville Chamber of Commerce while wearing my editor hat, but I will direct your attention to a letter to the editor published by the Chamber last year at budget time when the Economic Development position was cut.
It would be left to that organization’s president to comment on whether or not that position had changed.
Jim, we provide a comment section here not a discussion forum. I pipe in to add clarity not to engage in debate, but generally to offer clarity. Debate is reserved for the coffee shops and I’m given to understand it is your turn to buy.
Yes Stephen, it is definitely my turn to buy (and I even clicked the “like” button beside your comment)!
I RE-READ the Chamber’s letter and, once again, was struck by their comment:
“To this end we would rather see the hiring of an economic development officer delayed until the community has a firm grasp on whether it wishes to be a bedroom community or a community with a greater percentage of commercial and / or industrial amenities. We realize that skill sets vary among economic development experts and it is imperative the community determine its growth direction first so as to get the best value for the tax dollars invested.”
I for one (and I know that I’m not alone in this) do NOT believe that we have that desired “firm grasp” or if our growth direction really HAS been determined – I know that some REALLY, REALLY want us to be a commercial hub… maybe even a city. I also am not convinced that we should be so quick to aspire to loftier ideals than the reality of being a good, or even excellent TOWN.
An examination of the pros and cons of the next step in our ‘growth pattern’ is necessary, and I believe that examination should take place BEFORE we spend a lot of tax dollars which could, quite simply, be wasted.
My comment vis-a-vis the Chamber was merely to point out that I have never seen one tangible, verifiable piece of evidence that this organization has been instrumental in attracting new business into this municipality. It is probably an excellent networking tool for its members, but that in itself is NO reason to expend tax dollars to support its social activities.