Morinville taxpayers looking at a 2 per cent increase in 2013

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Council gave third and final reading to the 2013 operational and capital budgets Dec. 11, paving the way for the Town to go ahead with proposed projects next year. Ratepayers are on track to pay an additional 2 per cent on their spring tax bills to support the budget; however, a combination of property assessments and the setting of the mill rate next spring will ultimately determine just how much taxes will go up.

After shaving $300,000 off the then $14.6 million budget at second reading Nov. 27, Council once again took a look at next year’s operational and capital budget Tuesday night, adding $53,000 in spending and trimming off another $65,000 before giving it third and final reading.

As laid down at first reading Oct. 23, Budget 2013 consisted of an $11 million operating budget combined with a proposed $3.6 million in capital projects. As originally presented, Budget 2013 would have depleted the Town’s operational reserves to just $8,210 in order to support and hold the line at a 2 per cent increase; the maximum administration felt the community could bear. Second reading sliced $130,000 from capital spending and $170,000 from operational spending, the latter a move that kept $178,000 in operational reserves. With Tuesday night’s discussions passed, the Town’s operational reserves will now sit at $188,210.

Further trimming and additions

Council kept the big knives in the drawer during their final budget discussions, preferring instead to use something a little more surgical. Each member of Council provided input on what should stay and what should go before third reading. Councillor Gordon Boddez was not in attendance at the Dec. 11 meeting.

Councillor Lisa Holmes supported adding $10,000 to the Community Services budget to fund a fall festival that would tie in with the Incredible Edible sustainable gardening initiative as well as showcase local food producers. She also called for reducing the $20,000 approved for Municipal Sustainability Plan work to $10,000.

Holmes’ biggest cut was reducing $160,000 in tennis court funding down to $120,000. “I have a hard time spending this money on something that is sitting,” Holmes said, adding she did not feel the courts see heavy use and it made sense to phase their development once usage could be assessed. “I think at this point we need to rethink this and look outside the box a little more.”

Councillor Nicole Boutestein requested $15,000 be removed from the Community Services budget for a community start up initiative as the amount had been included in the budget twice. She also called for adding $35,000 to the budget for a number of trail enhancements at the Morinville Fish and Game Association pond, items that had been included in second reading as a to be determined amount.

Councillor Sheldon Fingler, who had previously supported cutting $100,000 for an outdoor electronic sign for the Morinville Community Cultural Centre, asked to add $3,000 back in so a sign of lettering could be added to the building to clearly identify what it was. Citing ratepayer concerns about the lack of signage and public complaints from people who think the building is part of the high school, Fingler said the time to get something on the building was now. “We do need proper signage at the cultural centre and nothing is happening,” he said.

Councillor David Pattison was successful in getting one of his two items added to the budget. Council supported his idea to add another $5,000 back into the Town’s tree planting budget, originally targeted at $35,000 but chopped down to $30,000 at second reading. However, Pattison’s desire to spend $35,000 for an illuminated Town sign that could be a permanent or portable unit was unplugged by the other four councillors present.

Festival funding unchanged

Council briefly considered a $2,000 perpetual grant for the Historical Society’s Canada Day celebrations, but were reminded the group was not really interested in a set amount. In 2011 the Historical Society did its own independent fundraising to put on the event, then came to Council for the exact amount they were short. That amount was $1,320 in 2011. Administration believed the group wished to do the same in subsequent years, seeking only the grant monies they truly needed to host the event.

A request from the Morinville Festival Society for $100,000 to fund four major festivals in Morinville did not received support from Council; however, Council will be continuing its annual $35,000 in funding for the St. Jean Baptiste Festival. That funding is coupled with approximately $10,000 in staff hours providing support for the annual summer event as well as some in kind donations for use of Town of Morinville facilities. It is anticipated in kind offerings would be made to support the additional festivals.

Tax increase not only increase in revenues

With roughly $312,000 shaved off the original 2013 budget, ratepayers are looking at the same 2 per cent increase envisioned at the outset of budget planning and discussion.

In addition to the anticipated 2 per cent tax increase, Morinville’s Chief Financial Officer, Andy Isbister, has said he is anticipating an equal growth in real assessment for 2013. The 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.

Morinville ratepayers will know the actual amounts in the spring when the mill rate is set and tax notices are sent out. The 2 per cent increase talked about in Budget 2013 does not include school tax requisitions, which are collected by the municipality on behalf of the province.

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