By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Citing what he sees as escalating expenses and diminishing financial reserves, Morinville ratepayer Paul O’Dea has called upon Council to order a Staffing Levels Assessment and Operations Efficiency Review to see if the community is getting the best bang for the buck. O’Dea’s appearance was his second in as many Council meetings. This time around he delivered a 20-minute presentation outlining what he sees as the errors of Council’s way on municipal spending.
Comparing Morinville with Municipal Affairs data from Westlock, Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, Redwater, St. Albert, Devon and Edmonton, O’Dea pointed out to councillors Morinville had the second highest average tax per residence of the eight communities he presented. Morinville, at an average residential tax of $1,764.06, was second only to St. Albert at $2,517.54.
O’Dea went on to compare the residential tax rates for the eight communities and pointed out Morinville was the fourth highest in 2011 at 6.39 per cent. By comparison, that same tax rate for non-residential taxes was the lowest of the eight municipalities.
“Morinville has the lowest non-residential tax rate. If the plan is to have the lowest non-residential rate in order to attract and retain businesses, fine, but how is that plan working?” O’Dea rhetorically asked Council. “And what is being done to ensure that Morinville residents don’t carry a disproportionate amount of the tax burden?”
Using the same eight communities, O’Dea’s figures showed only three communities had a higher employee-to-resident ratio than Morinville: Spruce Grove, St. Albert and Edmonton. O’Dea said the two larger cities to the south could be reasonably pulled from the equation as city policing and public transit would require higher municipal staff than other communities.
[SUBHEAD]Staffing review required
O’Dea’s main complaint is the increase in salaries and wages in the community between 2010 and 2013. In his presentation he said salaries and wages have increased by 46 per cent in three years, far more than he feels reasonable or sustainable.
For the ratepayer the question is whether or not Morinville ratepayers are receiving the best possible value for their tax dollars. O’Dea said he has been told the better question is whether improvements can be made in how things operate.
“We are informed that this work has begun and it will evolve over the next two or three years,” O’Dea said, adding there seems to be no appetite for any external oversight. “While that may well be Council’s prerogative – the question that still remains unanswered is whether an external Staffing Levels Assessment and Operations Efficiency Review would be in the best interests of Morinville taxpayers?”
O’Dea suggested $150,000 spent on an external assessment would represent only .34 per cent of the estimated $44 million the community will spend over the next four years. It is for O’Dea money well spent as such an audit could give Council the information it needs to make decisions now rather than over three years as it evolves naturally. “If an external operations review is not in the best interests of Morinville taxpayers let’s hear why,” O’Dea said.
[SUBHEAD]Council has mixed reaction to presentation
Councillor Lisa Holmes accused O’Dea of being selective in the communities he picked for his comparisons as the list he had been provided had far more communities on it. “I do not think this is as bad as it is made out to be,” Holmes said of O’Dea’s staffing figures.
Chief Administrative Officer Debbie Oyarzun said the original list provided to O’Dea was one Morinville frequently uses when it is researching bylaws or policies. “That original list was bigger and broader for multiple purposes,” Oyarzun said. “We use that list on an ongoing basis for everything.”
Councillor David Pattison challenged O’Dea on his $150,000 figure for an assessment, asking him what he would remove from the budget to pay for it.
O’Dea said he’d like to see the Economic Development Officer position the Town is looking to fill next year be made a contracted position rather than another hire. “My point would be hold off additional staffing, do the review, reorganize as you see fit, and then proceed,” O’Dea said.
Councillor Gordon Boddez said he had asked for something like O’Dea was seeking years ago but got little support. “This is like déjà vu for me because I had suggested this about three years ago to council that we do an independent review in conjunction with our CAO at the time,” Boddez said. “But Council did not pursue it.”
Although no motion was put forward on a staffing assessment, Boddez went on later in the evening to call on Council to hold a special meeting in February to unite Council, the CAO and other stakeholders to review expenses, debentures and reserves over the next five years.