by Calli Stromner
Morinville – Councillors waded through a heavy agenda during their last regular meeting of 2013, which included a decision on the Interim Budget, direction on whether to repair or replace the Ray McDonald Arena, ongoing funding to the Northern Lights Library System and other items.
2014 Interim Budget
Without much discussion or debate, Council unanimously approved an interim budget, which covers operational expenditures for the first three months of 2014. According to a report drafted by Chief Administrative Officer Debbie Oyarzun, “an interim budget provides funds for the basic operations until the entire budget is reviewed, revised and approved by Council.” It also provides the newly elected Council more time to understand the budget process and financial reporting that is unique to the public sector. Operational expenditures for the first quarter of 2014 are estimated at $2.76 Million, or exactly 25% of the actual 2013 operations budget. A similar estimate is taken for the revenue side of the balance sheet, with a total of $2.84 Million budgeted.
Northern Lights Library System Funding
Council narrowly approved an annual funding request from the Northern Lights Library System (NLLS) which would see the Town’s contribution increase by two per cent in 2014. The increased levy equates to $730 dollars from the Town of Morinville, resulting in a total contribution in 2014 of $37,230.08.
Councillor Stephen Dafoe, who is the NLLS Council Representative, indicated that the NLLS budget was developed prior to October’s Municipal Election. Chief Financial Officer Andy Isbister commented that the two per cent increase was a marked departure from the historic annual increase of five per cent. “With a two per cent increase this year, NLSS is listening to member municipalities about reasonable budget increases.”
Other members of Council suggested that there may be other options for the Morinville Public Library to explore if it is mandated to be a part of a regional library system, including joining forces with St. Albert. “We can opt out of Northern Lights and it may be something we want to look at during the budget process,” said Mayor Lisa Holmes, adding that a cost comparison of all available regional library memberships should be undertaken.
Despite the suggestion to “shop around”, Mayor Holmes was the deciding vote in a 4-3 approval of the two per cent NLSS levy increase, while Councillors Dafoe, Rob Ladouceur and Nicole Boutestein voted against it.
Recreational Cost Sharing Agreement
Council unanimously agreed to approve the 2013 Recreational Cost Sharing Agreement with Sturgeon County. CAO Oyarzun indicated that the County increased funding by 10% over 2012 figures, which means Morinville would receive $49,500 to offset costs associated with having Sturgeon County residents use recreational programs, services and facilities provided by the Town. Councillor Dafoe noted that County funding had not increased substantially over the last few years and questioned “why the change of heart?”
CAO Oyarzun explained that Sturgeon County, Morinville and four other municipalities achieved a great deal of consensus and trust while work progressed on the Regional Recreation Master Plan earlier this year. “Sturgeon County has been at the table with this and participating fully in a cost-sharing model,” she said. “Once we plug the numbers in (to that model), we’ll present them to the collective.”
Photo Radar Petition
At the CAO’s recommendation, Council received a valid petition calling for an end to photo radar enforcement and privately contracted traffic enforcement services. Oyarzun told Council that of the 948 signatures on the petition, staff deemed 874 to be valid. Under Municipal Government Act regulations, once the valid petition is presented to and received by Council, they have 30 days to give First Reading to the bylaw covered in the petition; however, due to the Christmas holidays and Council meeting schedule, First Reading is scheduled for the January 14 Council meeting, four days after the 30-day deadline. Council also directed staff to send a deadline extension request to the Municipal Affairs Minister, but wanted to ensure that the request would be considered.
“We did talk to Municipal Affairs through this entire process,” explained Oyarzun. “Five days shouldn’t be an issue.” If a Ministerial extension is not granted, Council would be compelled to give First Reading during a Special Council Meeting prior to January 9.
Councillor Expense Top-Up
Councillor Rob Ladouceur requested an additional $250 to be allocated to his personal training budget from the general Council training budget so he can enroll in a course in Municipal Finance prior to the end of the year. Ladouceur suggested that the course would help him understand and contribute to the 2014 Budget process more fully. Council unanimously approved the request.
Direction on Arena
Council directed staff to come back to them with more information around the direct and indirect costs associated with either repairing or replacing the Ray McDonald Arena. Councillor Nicole Boutestein explicitly excluded the notion of a multi-purpose recreation centre when she made the motion, which was carried unanimously. “This motion gives us direction to dig a little deeper,” said Oyarzun, adding that a formal decision on the future of the arena needs to be made during budget deliberations during the first two months of 2014, as the existing structure will outlive its useful life by Winter 2015.
In a subsequent motion put forward by Councillor Barry Turner, Town Administration will also “further engage in a broader discussion about recreation programs and facilities” with other regional stakeholders, including the Rotary Club, Sturgeon County, local service clubs and the Chamber of Commerce. Most Councillors supported this supplementary motion, with Councillor Ladouceur saying that the motion “also shows we want to do this in a collaborative fashion.” The lone dissenting voice at the Council table came from Councillor Boutestein, who voted against the motion. “I appreciate what Council is trying to do, but I just don’t think we need a motion,” she said, adding that it’s Council’s job to remain accountable to all stakeholders regardless of whether there’s a motion on the books or not.